Mar 22, 2009

Actions speak louder

PRESIDENT Zardari has said that it is time to forget the past and move on. ‘We have witnessed our state institutions repeatedly receiving blows from interventions,’ he stated at a farewell dinner for Abdul Hameed Dogar. Would that the president realised his own intervention in Punjab has struck another blow to those institutions. Through his proxy Governor Salmaan Taseer the president has kept Punjab in a state of near crisis on what appear to be very flimsy constitutional grounds.
Governor Taseer has refused to call a session of the Punjab Assembly to elect a new chief minister because, the governor claims, an aspirant to that office must first prove that he has the requisite numbers to win election. But that’s not what the constitution says. Constitutionally, a special session of the assembly is required to determine if a member of the house has the confidence of its members. If successful, that member, usually the leader of the largest party in the house, must be invited by the governor to become chief minister. Governor Taseer is arrogating to himself a discretion that the constitution simply does not give him.
The blatant illegality is doubly puzzling because now that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been restored the PML-N has ended its boycott of the superior judiciary. Legal experts suggest it wouldn’t take long for the Supreme Court to do away with governor’s rule if an application to such effect is filed. So what is to be gained by prolonging an illegal step that is proving to be politically damaging? The obvious answer is: the president and his team in Punjab are buying time to win over the PML-Q. But the PML-N is clearly not worried about that outcome and has slapped away overtures from the Chaudhries of the PML-Q.
The PML-N has reason to be confident. Even if arm-twisting wins back the forward bloc of the PML-Q and a unified PML-Q supports the PPP, the stench of foul play will stay over the assembly — and it will only strengthen the PML-N’s moral upper hand and increase the party’s support among the electorate.
The one good thing the government is doing is pressing ahead with a review of the disqualification of the Sharif brothers and seeking a stay order in the meantime. Given what’s happening in Punjab it’s clear though that the PPP does not intend to hand the chief minister’s slot back to Shahbaz Sharif. But by being stubborn the PPP is flirting with other dangers too.
In recent weeks, the party has sucked the army back into mediating political crises. Gen Kayani has been applauded for his role in the restoration of Chief Justice Chaudhry, but a good choice yesterday can become a bad one tomorrow. Army intervention is bad. Period. One wishes the president would realise that too.

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