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Coalition on the brink of collapse

The stage is set for a split in the ruling coalition with the PPP’s Asif Zardari in no mood to meet PML leader Nawaz Sharif’s deadline for the dismissed judges’ restoration on Monday, reports Vinod Sharma.

world Updated: Aug 24, 2008 23:42 IST
Vinod Sharma

The stage is set for a split in the ruling coalition with the PPP’s Asif Zardari in no mood to meet PML leader Nawaz Sharif’s deadline for the dismissed judges’ restoration on Monday.

In fact, Zardari is likely to keep the issue pending till the September 6 presidential elections for which he is a candidate. “Even after becoming President, he’ll choose his own time and method for the judges’ return,” sources close to the PPP co-chairman told HT.

They claimed Zardari’s election was a foregone conclusion despite the PML’s numbers in Parliament and the majority it has in the largest province of Punjab. The Sindh Assembly’s early support of his candidature will be emulated by provincial legislatures in Balochistan and the NWFP where the PPP leads the coalitions.

Zardari also has the backing of other alliance partners — the JUI and the ANP — and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) with sizeable votes in Sindh and at the Centre. In the ongoing numbers game, the PPP has already reached out to the Opposition PML (Q) for whom Sharif is a bigger adversary.

Be that as it may, it’s generally believed that Zardari’s stock his plummeted in popular esteem for “breaking as pie-crusts” the promises he repeatedly made to Sharif on the judges’ question. A Bollywood number the PML leader sang to make the point has sent TV channels in an over-drive. Newscasts aren’t complete these days without fuller sequences of
their since threatened partnership with the background score kya hau tera wada, woh kasam, woh irada….

Gimmicks apart, even known PPP sympathizer such as Asma Jahangir, a noted human-rights activist, insist the judiciary’s restoration cannot await the ruling party’s omnibus judicial reforms. “What stops the government from undertaking reforms after restoring the judges,” she asked.

But certain Islamabad-watchers disagree, citing Zardari’s commitments to international forces and key elements at home, who took a dim view of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s pre-dismissal activism favouring the Lal Masjid clerics and people who went missing in counter-terrorist operations.

They believe Sharif took the populist road a trifle early without concern for Zardari’s compulsions — especially his guarantees to forces that delivered Musharraf’s trouble-free exit. “The PML wants early elections; the PPP a longer stint to kick-start reforms to solidify parliamentary rule,” said a journalist-friend of Zardari. He said the PPP chief wasn’t about to style himself as a civilian dictator.

As President, he’d work on a “realistic time frame” for equitable transfer of powers to the judiciary, the legislature and the executive.

Another expendable wada or a gentleman’s promise — only time will tell.