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PPP's five years and what next?

20 March, 2013

By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu


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The PPP government inherited, from Musharraf regime, numerous complex problems, such as energy and commodity shortages, near default economy, circular debt, 24% inflation, sick stock exchange, structurally crumbling army, fully corrupt bureaucracy, state made and self grown mafias and militants, enslaved Swat, detained judiciary, bruised Baluchistan, burning FATA, boiling Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, barricaded Islamabad, ready to explode Karachi and Quetta, hate spreading madrissahs located everywhere and mostly in Punjab, dubious policy on terrorism, democracy hating lethal mindset, and worst of all an isolated Pakistan.

The two good mention-worthy things, which Musharraf did, could have brought about wonderful changes. They were the district governments, and the Kashmir policy of Musharraf's last two years in uniform. The former lacked political participation, and hence failed and led eventually to the individualization of the society; and the later was dumped by the army once Musharraf took off his uniform.

The PPP government alongside problematic inheritance lived amid volatile partners, tussle with the army on the length and limits of the civilian authority, and also on the policies regarding India, Kashmir, the US, Afghanistan and religious extremism, a judiciary that most of the time appeared PPP-centric, tussle with the opposition and the allies on the imposition of extended general sales tax, daily news of being toppled, two terrible floods, the hurricane called Kerry Lugar Bill, Reymond Davis's story, Osama's killing by the US in Abbotabad, the ugly memogate and Qadri's disturbing march.

The PPP government completed its term and deserves credit for that and for ending the commodity shortages, revitalizing the army, liberating Swat, showing respect, though sometimes reluctantly, to super active judiciary, making media freer than it was ever before, taking stock exchange to new heights, reducing inflation to single digit, attracting all times high remittances, giving provinces autonomy and a revolutionary financial award, reviving economy to that degree where it has become a kind of bubble that will not burst suddenly, succeeded in making anti-democracy lethal mindset less lethal, helping Afghanistan in getting rid of Taliban, getting Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project going; and best of all leaving behind a Pakistan that is not isolated.

The PPP failed to deliver on many fronts mostly due to the reasons beyond its control — the army, bureaucracy and judiciary as usual did not accept the elected civilian authority, sincerely; and that weakened the writ of government — and partly due to the incompetence of some of its important ministers. This is why the energy shortages continued, the inflation and incomes remained incompatible, economy remained vulnerable, debts increased many fold, unemployment increased beyond tolerable limits, fully corrupt bureaucracy became awfully corrupt, and the mafias, militants and hate spreading madrissahs flourished making the internal security Pakistan's biggest concern.

The bad thing the PPP could avoid doing, easily, was the dumping of the district governments system. If the PPP had held the elections on party basis for this system, democracy would have gained extraordinary strength. Having district government around is the shortest way to empower the masses, and to curb corrupt bureaucratic power.

Nevertheless, democracy is stronger than it was ever before. Though the hardened souls are still expecting the change through undemocratic means, such thinking is natural in a country whose history is full of coups and conspiracies. It will take two more elections for all of us to know about the worth of democracy.

The upcoming elections will be held on any day between first weeks of May and June. The PML (N) will prefer early May to June to benefit from its popularity certificates and metro bus service. The PPP too is well prepared to improve its position. The incumbency factor has an advantageous side: expansion of influence through development works and the state related other means does usually help the incumbents gain extra votes. Though its popularity graph is declining, the PTI too will be in a good position. It's likely charged election campaign, which will be in the hands of young workers and influential supporters, will collect a good percentage of votes. Into how many seats its votes will translate is a question that only time will answer. As far as the ANP, MQM, PML (F), JUI and the nationalists are concerned their performance will not change much from their previous one.

It will be first time ever when a civilian government will transfer power to another civilian government; besides this, the coming elections too will be unique: They will be freer and fairer than all the previous ones. The recent wave of sectarian violence notwithstanding, they will be held in a peaceful environment due to the presence of a dynamic media and hundreds of foreign observers. All of us know that the situation before the elections of 2008 was much more horrible than the one that we have today. Yet, the elections were held in a peaceful manner. True, the invisible hands will try to do the same old things, which they are addicted to. But this time they will not succeed. What will stop them at a reasonable length from the polling booths is the newly acquired will of the politicians for contesting the elections in a transparent manner.

What will be the parliamentary position of the parties that have made or will make alliances, understandings and seat to seat adjustments? In this regard three scenarios are worth discussion.

First scenario: The seat to seat adjustment between the PPP and the PML (Q) will do no wonders. However, it can help the PML (Q) retain nearly 2/3 of its 'intact' seats. The PPP voters are more often than not loyal to their party's directions and when asked they do vote for a candidate from any other party. Whether the PPP candidates will benefit from the PML (Q)'s support is a complex question because the PML (Q) is a party of the stalwarts. How its stalwarts will behave that even PML (Q) does not know.

Second scenario: The partnership among the PML (N), PML (likeminded), PML (F), (NPP) etc. too will do no wonders. In Punjab it will be in a position to do marginally better due to the incumbency factor, but that also will inversely depend on the performance of the PTI. In Sindh it may help PML (N) win a couple of seats. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa PTI will show respectable performance and that may in spite of its friends' support affect PML (N)'s performance. In Baluchistan this partnership will be a success if the nationalists join it. In case the nationalists boycott the elections, then only the angels sitting in Rawalpindi can tell who will win what.

Third scenario: The division of the political parties into the Islamists and the secularists will not appear openly during the election campaign. Yet, the votes of the religious extremists will count; and that will make contest tough for the ANP, PPP and MQM in some constituencies. After the elections of 2013, the PPP and its next partners will face a much tougher contest/ an existentialist question: how to handle an awfully corrupt bureaucracy, and how to solve problems of internal security. Winning this existentialist contest should not be difficult. The rulers of democratic Afghanistan did it, why can't we.

End.

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