|In the absence of Bhutto, the PPP under Zardari will be vulnerable to the devious|
games of the establishment and intelligence agencies [AFP]
In the next 24 hours, some contours of the next Pakistani government both at the centre and the country's four provinces will begin to take shape.
As expected, the polls threw up a divided mandate that relegated embattled president Pervez Musharraf's allies to the sidelines but Pakistanis are hoping that the top gainers — the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — will look beyond the short term lure of power.
Indeed, together they have the strength — with likely help from the supporting leftwing Awami National Party (ANP) and a stream of independents — to make the difference.
Ultimately, the simple premise of the 2008 general elections turned into a virtual referendum on the controversially re-elected president and recently retired army chief.
Shafqat Mahmood, a former PPP MP, and now a respected political commentator, concurs.
"This election has clearly been a referendum against Mr Musharraf and whatever he stood for.
"If he tries to fight a losing battle by manipulating political parties or tries to create factions within them, he will just prolong the nation's agony. He must do the decent thing and quit."
Given to years of the management of power, boosted by surviving three assassination attempts, Musharraf is trying to put on a brave face.
Popular verdict to quit
His spokesman Rashid Qureshi was dismissive of calls on Tuesday by PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari to heed the popular verdict and quit.
"They are way off in their demands. He [Musharraf] has already pledged that he is ready to work with anyone who wins and forms the government. He is an easy man to function with and he does whatever is in the interest of the country."
But the heart of the matter is hardly about affibility and willingness to share power. Musharraf allowed Bhutto to return home last year only after US pressure and Sharif following Saudi refusal to continue hosting him in exile.
As Aitzaz Ahsan, the incarcerated president of the supreme court bar association, said: "He is the most hated man in the country and he must resign, there is no other way.."
Ashan led the struggle for the restoration of the judges Musharraf deposed last November over fears they would over-rule his controversial re-election.
So what are Musharraf's options to avoid a possible impeachment if he does not quit?
It will require a wide split in the ranks of PPP and PML-N — by no means an impossible task ordinarily but quite unlikely given their extraordinary need to do business together, for now.
Najam Sethi, editor of the pro-West Daily Times, who has previously supported Musharraf's liberal policies, suggests a way out.
"Ideally, President Musharraf might be advised to voluntarily quit, redeem some honour and allow the fledgling democracy to settle down and grow. But if he is reluctant to call it a day voluntarily, the choice will be between banding together and getting rid of him or letting him stay as a lame duck president."
To arrive at any meaningful conclusion on if and how Musharraf can be impeached if he decides to ignore calls for resignation, it is important for PPP and PML-N to converge.
Sharif as kingmaker
Nawaz Sharif has revived his political fortunes by taking an uncompromised stand on the issue of deposed judges. For all its simplicity, it landed Sharif the role of a kingmaker. He is in the unique position of even sitting out the government for now.
Imran Khan, the charismatic cricketer-turned politician, who boycotted the polls in protest over its conduct under Emergency-laden provisional constitutional order, agrees.
- Pakistan has 81 million registered voters, out of a population of 160 million people.
- Voters choose 272 members of the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, for a five-year term.
- Another 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities.
- There are 106 parties, 15 of which were represented in the last parliament.
- More than 60,000 polling stations were set up across the country.
- Key issues include restoration of a full civilian government, reinstatement of sacked judges, rising militancy, economy and high unemployment.
"The mandate given to PML-N is clearly because of their stance for the reinstatement of deposed judges."
For the PPP of slain Bhutto, it is a completely different ballgame. Their need to form a government at the centre with their own prime minister is acute even if hardly enviable given the many tough political and economic decisions a new government is expected to make soon after coming into power.
In the absence of Bhutto, who remained its great binding force for nearly three decades, the PPP under Zardari — who has remained a source of discontent within the party rank and file thanks to his controversial role in her two governments — will be vulnerable to the devious games of the establishment and intelligence agencies.
In other words, staying in power will be the glue, which keeps the PPP together and provide Zardari the necessary space to earn his spurs as a genuine leader. But this could mean making uncomfortable compromises. PPP and Musharraf's aides are already in talks over the future dispensation.
The PPP appears not too keen on the restoration of the deposed judges but PML-N can ill-afford to part with their hardened stand. Even if the PPP reluctantly agrees to find a middle ground on the issue, Sharif is not ready to let bygones be bygones with Musharraf.
To impeach or not to impeach
Both the parties want Musharraf out, but while they would rather the beleaguered leader resign of his own volition, PPP has given indications that it could still live with him if they get their pound of flesh. On the contrary, Sharif is gunning for an impeachment if Musharraf tries to push his luck.
So far, Musharraf is refusing to buckle down. This may change however, if Zardari and Sharif reach the same conclusion to keep their political stock intact. Debate on possible impeachment may gain currency in the days to come.
|Zardari has called for Musharraf to quit [AFP]|
Senator John Kerry, the last Bush rival for the White House, and one of few US lawmakers, who traveled to Pakistan as poll observers, was constrained to point to a clause for impeachment in the Pakistani constitution to offset a query at a news conference in Islamabad the other day.
Kerry was asked if he was working to advance longstanding US policy of supporting Musharraf in power when he suggested Musharraf and moderate victors of the February 18 elections had a great opportunity to work together to strengthen democracy.
Joseph Biden, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee and one of the poll observers, at least, signaled a change in outlook.
"This is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that has been focused on a personality to one based on an entire people," Biden said.
Regardless of what eventually happens to Musharraf, the gnawing reality is that politically, he may have reached a dead-end.
The writer is News Editor at Dawn News, an independent Pakistani TV channel.