PPP to fight ‘plots’ against mandate; Make or Break Point for Rule of Law

DAWN.COM | Pakistan | PPP to fight ‘plots’ against mandate

Dawn reports that a meeting of high officials of the Pakistan People’s Party produced a resolution to remain in power, retain existing cabinet members, and simply fight each corruption case brought against PPP officials on a case-by-case basis. On the advice of the reformist wing of the party, headed by Aitzaz Ahsan, the party decided not to attempt to directly confront or tamper with the judiciary.

From a PPP point of view, the decision this week of the Supreme Court to set aside the amnesty proclaimed in late 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf for politicians against whom there were outstanding corruption cases was part of a conspiracy of the Punjabi elite of the country to deny the party the fruits of its resounding electoral victory in February, 2008. The PPP is a nationwide party with constituents throughout the country, but its base is in Sindh, a poor province, the inhabitants of which often feel discriminated against by the majority Punjabis and by the Urdu-speaking Muhajirs or immigrants who came from India in 1947 and who were more urban, literate and better at capturing lucrative government jobs in Sindh itself than were the largely rural, illiterate Sindhis.

But Party leaders wisely decided not to play the card of wounded Sindhi subnationalism.

The virtue of the stand-fast approach the party is taking is that it asserts a claim to legitimacy on the basis of popular sovereignty. In the US, as well, voters often return corrupt politicians to power at the ballot box.

The disadvantage is that so many PPP officials have cases outstanding against them that the party could suffer a death of a thousand cuts as the cases wend their way through the courts and generate negative headlines for a while– even if most cases are ultimately dropped or result in a hung jury.

The party has decided to stand behind even two of the cabinet ministers against whom extensive charges have been laid, Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar and Interior Minister Rehman Malik. The lower level Interior ministry officials who stopped Mukhtar from proceeding to China were dismissed.

If the crisis goes forward on this basis, with the majority party ruling as long as it can avoid a vote of no confidence, and with individual corruption cases fought on a case-by-case basis, then the entire exercise could be healthy. Some individual cabinet and other officials may have to step down, but so what?

There will be new elections at some point, and even if the government can survive until 2013 when they are scheduled, the public will have the opportunity to decide whether the court cases were brought maliciously and were largely without merit, or whether more probity in office is desirable. I’m watching GEO satellite in Urdu now, and commenters are pointing out that the newly assertive judiciary will be unlikely to want to pursue cases that seem to derive from partisan spite or are flimsy.

The USG Open Source Center translated an approving editorial from Jang (which is pro-Muslim League) that praised the Supreme Court for revoking Musharraf’s blanket amnesty:

‘ Jang Editorial Calls For Removing Cancer of Corruption From Society: Seeing an opportunity in the Supreme Court verdict to stamp out corruption from the society, the editorial says: “By passing an unprecedented judgment against the NRO, the Supreme Court has provided a rare opportunity to the country and nation to remove the cancer of corruption from the country’s political system. If the prime minister, being the administrative head, succeeds in this test and takes concrete measures for implementation of the Supreme Court’s verdict in letter and spirit, it will be a great honor for him.”

But another Jang editorial made an important point– the PPP government will have to be willing to prosecute legitimate cases in good faith:

Jang Article by Irfan Siddiqui Claims Tough Task Assigned to Government: Discussing the problems of the government for taking action against its own people, the article says: “The greatest challenge for the government, which is at the helm of affairs, is to take action against its own components. Will the government discharge this noble task? Will the syed of Multan (Prime Minister Gilani) be able to bear this burden?”

As power is gradually being returned to the prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, the proper head of state, from the artificially inflated presidency created by past generals, he has a special burden to function as the leader of the country and not just of his party.

The assertion of power by the judiciary during the past three years seems to me one of the more pivotal developments in Pakistani history, which had alternated between highly partisan civilian party rule and periods of military dictatorship. The judiciary has emerged as a force in its own right. Of course, there are dangers in an overly active, unelected judiciary interfering too heavily in a government with a popular mandate. The USG Open Source Center translated an editorial to that effect from ‘Nowadays’ (AAj Kal):

Aaj Kal Editorial Warns Against Unrestricted Judicial Activism: Emphasizing that caution is required for the courts while exercising their newly won freedom, the editorial says: “In the backdrop of the increased respect and growing confidence reposed in the courts after the restoration of judiciary on 16 March, special care is required so that the scope of judicial review doesn’t cross the limits and the respect and dignity of courts is kept intact.”

Despite the resentments within the PPP over the way the court decision revoking amnesty seems unfairly to have set the clock back to the late 1990s, when the Muslim League and then the military had launched the corruption cases as a way of marginalizing the dismissed-from-power PPP, there is indisputably a lot of corruption in Pakistani politics. In fact, there is not much point in President Obama giving the country $7.5 bn. in aid if it is just going to be siphoned off to Switzerland.

This is a moment in which the Pakistani political elite can finally begin to grow up and stop acting like feudal lords and carpetbaggers. Or it can devolve into partisan and ethnic bitterness that would be far more dangerous to the country than the revolt of a few rural tribes, styled by Washington ‘Taliban,’ in the rugged Northwest of the country.

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2 Responses

  1. "If the crisis goes forward on this basis, with the majority party ruling as long as it can avoid a vote of no confidence, and with individual corruption cases fought on a case-by-case basis, then the entire exercise could be healthy. Some individual cabinet and other officials may have to step down, but so what?"

    The PPP has a real opportunity here to set the ship right. If there is some PPP official who falls to the process, all the better as it would demonstrate that the leadership was actually allowing the democratic legal process – the rule of law – to play out. I think this could have a positive effect on some opposition lawmakers and, thus, the system as a whole. Preferably it wouldn't be Zardari, not because he's anything special, but simply because of the importance of not allowing the perception of a successful 'minus-one strategy' or 'coup by judiciary.' But, in the end, there also cannot be a perception that he was above the law, so we'll see what happens.

    What worries me is opposition using the NRO nullification as an opportunity to artificially delegitimize the PPP government in order to force premature elections without letting the courts do their job. There simply has to be a presumption of innocence if the process is to work. This is Pakistan's first democratically elected government in a long time, and I'd like to avoid perpetuating a political climate in which all political leaders are in permanent crisis mode, siphoning money off to Switzerland, as it were, in order to provide a safety net for a dangerous and uncertain future. (By the way, your mention of siphoning off the Kerry-Lugar aid to Switzerland is a blatant dig at Zardari, which isn't helpful.) This is Pakistan's past; it's time to move forward.

    I agree with your analysis, though – PPP holds a lot of cards here, and it's important that they play them wisely. Let's also hope Nawaz and Chaudhry do likewise. While not in power currently, it will behoove both of their parties in the long run to allow a fair and transparent political and legal process to work. Ideally, that means the PPP needs to be allowed to finish its elected term in some form.

    Pakistan has the opportunity to demonstrate a new era in government and improve not only their process and stability, but through that, the nation's economy and security. Here's hoping for the best.

  2. Zardari can fight all he wants. He might win a court fight, but the entire world knows he is a thief. But he seems to not be troubled by this perception which speaks to a flawed conscience that will only lead to more theft.

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