In what amounts to a token gesture, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami party finally tendered his resignation from parliament on Monday, after threatening to do so for many months.
The Qazi says he resigned because decisions of national importance were being made outside parliament by a “single person”. The reference to a single person is President Pervez Musharraf. The Jamaat has demanded time and again that the President resign and set the stage for free and fair elections.
The Jamaat-e-Islami does not command many seats in parliament. It is not part of any strong opposition group either. Almost no one else will follow suit. Most of their battles have been fought on the streets instead.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the coalition of right wing parties, of which the Jamaat-e-Islami is an important member, remains undecided as to how to force President Musharraf to resign. The call by Qazi Hussain Ahmed to his coalition members to resign en masse has gone unheard. Most religious parties are weighing their chances.
One of the reasons for this is possibly the expectation that the President would seek re-election from the present assembly later this year. According to a Supreme Court decision, General Musharraf must be re-elected between September and October this year. He has two options for this, one is to seek re-election from the present assembly and the other is to seek re-election from a new assembly.
However, the fact that general elections are due for December 2007 or January 2008 indicates that the General is intent on getting himself a green signal from the present batch of parliamentarians. Things have been made more complicated by an increasingly active Supreme Court, which is taking suo motu action on a number of issues. This has already made the government somewhat nervous.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Chief Election Commissioner and other officials directing them to file their reply on Thursday about the issue of electoral rolls. The Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Rana Bhagwandas, was hearing a constitutional petition filed by ex-Prime Minister Ms Benazir Bhutto against the Election Commission challenging the new computerised electoral rolls. Most opposition alleged that many people have been left out, but the Government has turned a deaf ear.
In his order, Justice Bhagwandas said the petition raised a substantial question of law of public importance as it prima facie disenfranchises millions of people.
For their part, many parliamentarians are happy to wait and see how things go in the coming months. If the president needs support to get re-elected, the vote of an MP will come at a cost. Many feel that this is the time for them to cash in on their parliamentary status.
While the President can count on the support of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and coalition partners like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), there are chances that many independents would have to be taken on board. This will be a challenge for the government.
If getting re-elected is his first hurdle, the second one for the president would be how he manages the general elections. As a first step, an interim government would have to be in place in a couple of months.
The next couple of months will be those of playing hardball between the government and the political parties. Chances of a deal between General Musharraf and Ms Benazir Bhutto seem to be on the cards, but there is still a lot of ground to cover on that front.