Saturday, February 23, 2008

And the Talk of Coalitions Continue...

On Saturday, the Daily Times reported that elected members of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) endorsed Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the party's vice chairman, for their candidate as Prime Minister. The news agency cited a PPP official statement, which said, "In a meeting at the Zardari House in Islamabad, they also vowed an end to the presidential powers to dismiss assemblies." Moreover, the party decided to address Musharraf's decision to remove the judges, an incident that caused much controversy in November, through a resolution in the National Assembly. According to the Daily Times, "The resolution, they [PPP MNAs] said, would give complete financial and administrative independence to the judiciary."

Developments related to party alliances and subsequent coalitions have dominated news coverage of Pakistan since Monday's elections. Reuters cited an opinion poll today that "showed an alliance between the two biggest groups opposed to President Pervez Musharraf was the preferred choice of Pakistan's voters." According to the Gallup poll, an alliance between the PPP and the PML-N was the preferred choice of those surveyed, since " fortypercent of PPP voters said the PML-N was their second choice and 45 percent vice versa."

While a PPP/PML-N alliance may be the primary coalition in the government, it is not the only one. None of the country's parties won a majority of the National Assembly, "and negotiations are continuing between rivals keen to forge a coalition big enough to hold power in the 342-seat parliament." PPP has reportedly also been in coalition talks with the MQM, and, most notably, with the Awami National Party (ANP), the secular political party that essentially replaced the religious coalition, the MMA, in NWFP. On Saturday, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that the top leaders of both the PPP and ANP agreed to form a coalition government in that province, since the two parties had gained a majority.

In my coverage of the results of the elections, I have so far neglected to highlight the significance of the MMA defeat in the NWFP. The religious coalition originally held 46 of provincial parliamentary seats, but only won nine on Monday - partly because of the religious parties' boycott of the elections (with the exception of the JUI), and partly due to the voice of the people, unhappy with the poor governance demonstrated by the MMA. According to a significant piece in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor, "It is an important development in the province nearest Pakistan's tribal areas, known to host Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the new focus of US anti-terror policy. The ANP is expected to marshal all the province's resources – police, politics, and the law – against extremism, whereas the mullahs had refused even to condemn suicide attacks."

The Monitor interviewed some NWFP residents, who voted for the ANP not as a veto of religious politics, but as a desire for a government that is both fair and ethical. The Monitor commented on the significance of the province as a whole, noting, "As a province, it cannot set military policy – that is the job of the National Assembly and the Army. Nor does it play a direct role in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where militant warlords rule much of the territory; FATA policy is determined in Islamabad. Yet the NWFP is the first bulwark against the spread of terrorism into the heart of Pakistan, and under the mullahs' watch little was done to check it." A member of the ANP's central executive committee, Lateef Afridi, reasoned, "Everyday you hear about a music store being bombed or such-and-such a place being attacked by the Taliban...That created a panic in the minds of the people." Moreover, noted the Monitor piece, "The notion of negotiation [referring to negotiating peaceful solutions to the proposed military options in fighting the Taliban] is ingrained in the Pashtun mind – a legacy of the jirgas, or councils, that have ruled Pashtun tribes for centuries – and it has great popular support here. The MMA's mullahs ran afoul of public opinion by abandoning such principles, residents say."

Ultimately, the victory of the ANP and the subsequent PPP-ANP coalition in the NWFP is a marked change from a religious coalition that advocated Islamic law and poorly governed the province. What is more significant is that their success represents the success of the political process. In Pakistan, we have never allowed an election cycle to play itself out - on the national level the process has always been disrupted by coups, takeovers, and the like. In Monday's election, the people of the NWFP, who themselves voted in the Islamic coalition, voted the MMA out of power. Democracy is not just one cycle of elections - it is the accountability of the victors after said elections. The success of the ANP within this context is therefore more noteworthy.


Shayan said...

Firstly, we as citizens of Pakistan are relieved after the elections as peace has been maintained, even if temporarily, after a very turbulent series of events throughout the past year. Contributing to this is also the fact that most parties and candidates are pleased with the results of the elections, keeping the rigging and other controversy theories aside.

As far as the PPP-PML(N) coalition is concerned, not everyone is happy. During PML(N)'s previous regime, many were left unhappy and it was arguably one of the worst periods of the country economically. Their current stand of not wanting to form a coalition with MQM could lead to instability in the country. Karachi is Pakistan's economic powerhouse, and fact being that the MQM has major dominance in Karachi, not just in the assemblies but being an informal source of power, having them as opposition could prove VERY counter productive.

Although party wise PPP may have had most success, bright hopes are created with the ANP's success, and their Anti-extremism and development-oriented manifesto has raised peoples expectations.

Lets all hope for the best.

Ali said...

Why is it reported that the Religious Parties were defeated in these elections? The Religious Parties chose to boycot these elections and it seems they no more lost this election than one can claim that Imran Khan lost this election.

CHUP! Editor [Kalsoom] said...

Good point. I did point out that the majority of the MMA boycotted the elections, but I think it's significant that press sources are framing the ANP win as an MMA defeat...I think outlets are trying to highlight that the people of the frontier were unhappy with the MMA's governance of the region, so them voting for the ANP and its subsequent victory, despite the MMA boycott, was still a defeat for the coalition.