Mar 9, 2011

An uneasy relationship

Will the PML-N and PPP evolve a working relationship in Punjab?

By Salman Abid

Among other things, the situation in Punjab politics is a throwback to the 1990s in a way. The pronounced conflict between the two major political parties has come on top of agenda in our political discourse. Whether the two political parties would be able to evolve mutual understanding for strengthening the present democratic system in the province and in the country at large is still a big question mark.

The two leading political parties signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) and made a promise to each other and to the nation to promote democratic values in politics and avoid past mistakes. But that has not happened.

The common people appreciated the idea of the two parties working together to resolve country’s problems by supporting each others’ initiatives. Under the political commitment, the PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government in the Center and in Punjab. But the coalition did not work.

Nawaz Sharif announced to separation of the PML-N from the government at the national level. Later, he also warned that PPP ministers in Punjab government would be shown the door and a new government with the support of PML (Q) unification block would be formed, excluding the PPP.

The major problem is the trust deficit between both the political parties in each other. Unfortunately, at the very initial stage both the parties did not develop trust with the PML-N walking out from the federal cabinet on the issue of restoration of judges. Interestingly, according to one analysis, PML-N did not openly resist the government and continued supporting the PPP as an opposition party in the national interest. The same happened in Punjab.

But now the game is over and both the parties are openly standing against each other, especially PML-N. At many occasions, the aggressive elements in PML-N have stood against the PPP by challenging it and demanding their ministers resign from the provincial cabinet. At first, the PPP did not pay heed and refused to resign. Eventually they did.

Interestingly, when the coalition government was being formed in Punjab, the PML-N had started supporting PML-Q’s unification block. This became the turning point of the relations between the two political parties. The formation of unification block with the support of PML-N) served as a serious wake-up call for PPP in Punjab. The process had started when former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and PML-Q were noticed forming an understanding to bring some big changes to the provincial government.

It is now clear that both the parties have some aggressive elements within them. That is abundantly clear from the PML-N’s 10-point agenda for the ‘larger national interest’. The PML-N leadership loudly criticised the PPP for having failed to implement the 10-point agenda.

It is important to discuss and highlight where the PML-N stands on issues. While the PPP agrees in principle to implement the agenda the point of conflict is regarding the time table for the implementation. Nawaz Sharif flayed the PPP for having failed to implement the 10-point agenda within the given time frame of 45 days. Who form PML-N is answerable to disclose the progress and process towards implementation of 10-point agenda in Punjab?

Nawaz Sharif is considered by his supporters as a leading political leader with a commitment to strengthen democratic institutions in the country and avoiding undemocratic norms in the political process. But, unfortunately, the situation is worsening and lots of issues are at a critical stage in politics.

People are seriously criticizing Shahbaz Sharif for his centralised approach in dealing and handling issues in the province. Everyone, including bureaucracy, public representatives and civil society have serious reservations on the centralised approach of governance in Punjab. The Punjab Chief Minister Main Shahbaz Sharif does not seem to believe in decentralization of power. The avoidance of local government elections and appointment of administrators is one example. Javaid Hashmi, a senior PML-N leader, once criticised party’s internal democratic norms openly and suggested that party leader needs to re- visit current political practices.

The common man is also confused about what is going on in the country. People are questioning where Nawaz Sharif stands, what he expects, and will do in response to the current political crisis of the country. There is no denying that there is a crisis of governance in the country and the PPP government is not dealing with it in a proper manner. But is it only the PPP which failed in handling governance crisis? Yes, the major responsibility lies with the central government but we should understand that if we only criticise the PPP, it would be unfair.

Some voices in the PML-N want midterm elections in the country and are insisting the PPP government take a fresh mandate from the public. But we should remember that if the political system derails once again the ultimate beneficiary would be undemocratic forces. Having said that, the PPP should also evaluate its own performance.

The politics of horse-trading pushed the country to a point where there was a deadlock. The formation of unification block is against the CoD. The PML-N has proved they have not learned from their past mistakes and are repeating the politics of the 1990s. The PML-N should realise the implications of the steps they are taking. Leaders of both the parties should display political maturity and know the political implications faced by the country at the moment.

Both the political parties should realise why people are not accepting their political and economic ‘achievements’ either at the center or at provincial level.

Both of them have to realise that democracy and democratic practices in the country have not taken root as yet.

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