By far the most important news coming out of Pakistan has nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. It is a tale of the maneuvering of a wounded, corrupt presidency to avoid snap parliamentary elections, and to avoid renewed scrutiny by a newly feisty Supreme Court. And,I would argue that it is about poor economic management of the country, which is weakening the present government.
Pakistan’s beleagured President Zardari turned over control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to his prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, on Saturday. In Pakistan’s parliamentary system, the prime minister is sometimes very powerful, but martial law provisions have in recent years invested the president with more powers. Zardari is under pressure from civilian politicians of all stripes to rescind his own extensive presidential powers and to return to a parliamentary system. Zardari has been slow to renounce the control the president gained under Gen. Pervez Musharraf, which has added ot his considerable unpopularity. Zardari faces several outstanding corruption cases, now that an amnesty passed by Musharraf in 2007 has expired, but he continues to enjoy immunity as long as he remains president. Zardari therefore suddenly has a powerful incentive to keep his government from falling, and to assauge the anger at him of the Supreme Court and parliament. Relinquishing some key presidential powers may buy Zardari time.
AFP reports that the official inflation rate in Pakistan this year is 10 percent, and the true rate is much higher because that figure only measures government-supplied goods whereas most people shop in the markets. AFP adds:
‘ The rupee has depreciated by 35 per cent in the last year while electricity, gas and petrol prices have doubled in the last two. The country faces a crippling energy crisis, producing only 80 per cent of its power needs, causing debilitating blackouts and suffocating industry. ‘
There are also high prices for staples such as sugar.
AFP quotes a Pakistani observer saying that bad economic performance does not bring down governments in Pakistan– rather they most often fall prey to military coups. But popular movements and demonstrations do help bring down governments, as with Bhutto in 1977. The return to civilian rule in 1988 was a function not only of the death in a plane crash of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, but also of the demonstrations launched by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy from the mid-1980s, which dissuaded the military from trying to stay in power. And popular demonstrations were key to the fall of Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2007-2008. Anything that rallies the urban masses in Pakistan can affect the fortunes of the sitting government, and people are upset about the economy.
The rival of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Nawaz Sharif, might already have attempted to bring down the the government (elected February 2008) and force midterm elections, except for fear of so destabilizing civilian politics and bringing the military back in. Still, the PMLN believes that the PPP government may well fall before its 5-year mandate is up. Nawaz Sharif is said to prefer even Zardari’s presidency to another officers’ putsch.
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