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Poll winners iron out their differences

Old rivals plan to work together to curtail the president’s powers to dismiss elected regimes, reports Vinod Sharma.

world Updated: Feb 22, 2008 23:00 IST

Pakistan’s electoral mandate that roundly rejected the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League(Q) has brightened the prospects of multi-party coalitions of the winning parties at the Centre as well as in the four provinces.

If all goes well, the “in principle” agreement reached on Thursday night between the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan Muslim League(N)’s Nawaz Sharif could provide a model for future regimes in Islamabad and Lahore. But in the North West Frontier Province and Sindh, the PPP’s main partners will be the Awami National Party (ANP) of Asfandayar Wali and Altaf Hussain's Muttahida Quami Movement. Government formation will not be possible in Balochistan without defections from the 17-member single largest PML(Q), declared untouchable by both Zardari and Sharif.

There were differences within the PPP on setting up a post-poll alliance with the MQM which, like the PML-Q, is known for its soft spot for President Pervez Musharraf. The matter was discussed at the PPP's Parliamentary Party meeting here on Friday. “In politics, there are no permanent enemies or friends,” said Qaim Ali Shah, senior PPP leader from Sindh, explaining the decision to engage with the MQM. “The political reality today is that we have to work together.”

The MQM has 38 seats in the 130-member Sindh legislature and 19 at the centre. The PPP’s proposed power sharing pact with it in the southern province is bound to be reflected at the centre too. As Sindh largely is a PPP bastion, the PML-N, whose presence is restricted to Punjab and the NWFP, has not made the PPP’s rapprochement with the exiled MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, an issue. But it is well known that Sharif is not very enthusiastic about working with the MQM in the federal government.

What apparently can or has clinched matters is the PPP-PML-N’s need to consolidate numbers in the national assembly. At the core of the framework within which they have agreed to work is restoring parliament’s sovereignty to empower the judiciary and curtailing the presidency that currently has powers to dismiss elected regimes under the existing Constitution’s Article 58 (2B).

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Hindustan Times that his party hoped to share power with the Nawaz League and other parties for restoration of the much amended 1973 Constitution as it existed on October 12, 1999. But certain changes brought about by Musharraf will be retained — the establishment of the joint electorate system; provision of reserved seats for women in the Assembly and the fixing of the voting age at 18.

There is unlikely to be any disagreement on the PML-N’s foremost demand for restoration of the dismissed higher judiciary. Zardari reportedly told Sharif to study the PPP’s constitutional amendment bill, which seeks to eliminate forever the threat of provisional constitutional orders (PCOs) used so frequently by military rulers to weed out upright members of the higher judiciary and swear in the pliable. “We are open to any changes the Nawaz League might want in the draft bill. Our view of the judiciary's rightful place in our system goes beyond restoration of one or two judges,” Babar said.

A salient feature of the Bill drawn up in consultation with the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association, currently leading the lawyers’ agitation against the judges’ dismissal, is a bipartisan mechanism for appointments in higher judiciary. “Together, we can undo through Parliament the knots and angularities woven into the Constitution,” Babar maintained. “We’ll agree to disagree thereafter on other issue.”

The election of the PPP’s parliamentary leader and PM-designate is likely to take some more time. A formal announcement might be made after the weekend meetings of provincial legislatures from Punjab, NWFP, Balochistan and Sindh. “We’ll also hold consultations with the defeated party candidates,” said Babar.

The PML-N has already named Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz, both of whom did not contest elections but hope to return in the by-polls, as their leaders in Islamabad and Punjab.