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Archive for October, 1993

Political Detente

The simple arithmetic of the elections of the NA Speaker Tanvir Gilani (106 votes over 90 for Gohar Ayub Khan) means that Ms Bhutto will be elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in the National Assembly today. While the PPP and its allies did get a slender majority in the October 6 NA elections, the support of independents, minority seats and others gives the PPP a comfortable working lead in Parliamentary terms over the PML(N). By the same yardstick PML(N)/ANP are expected to make a stable government in NWFP while squeaking past the post in Punjab where strongman Mian Shahbaz Sharif is the best PML(N) choice for CM in the circumstances. As the Nawaz pointman in earlier negotiations with Ms Benazir he does have a working relationship with her. Balochistan has its own peculiar political culture and it is expected that JWP will take the lead in making an ambivalent Government supported by either the PML(N) or PPP or even both. In Sindh, the PPP is poised to make a strong government but without the support of urban-based MQM it may not be stable as respects the law and order environment. The scenario outlined because of the elections has caused analysts and observers to refer to it as a “split mandate”, as a matter of fact that message by the electorate is the best thing to happen to Pakistan for a long, long time.

In 1988, the PPP made a strong Federal Government while the IJI made a comparable government in the Punjab. Their strength in their respective bastions meant that dialogue was shown the door in preference to acrimonious confrontation. Both the major political groupings proceeded to run riot with regard to malfeasance in the absence of the accountability factor that a strong in-House Opposition represents. In contrast, for the first time in the democratic history of the country no political grouping, except possibly in Sindh, has the absolute authority to ride roughshod over the other. In Sindh, the MQM’s overwhelming urban-based majority imposes its own inherent check and balance on PPP, Ms Benazir will rise in the esteem of the electorate if despite her absolute majority she displays political pragmatism by accommodating the MQM in the governance of Sindh. In the ultimate analysis, the common citizen will emerge as the greatest beneficiary as both the major political parties keep on vying for his/her attention rather than consign them to the dung-heap of benign neglect till the election process starts all over again. By voting for both political forces in substantial numbers, around 39-40% with a slight edge of over 750,000 votes for PML(N), the voters have sent a strong signal that instead of confrontation, political detente is the order of the day. By giving the balance 20% of the vote count to a virtual plethora of others (the swing vote in almost every Assembly), the voters have ensured that the substantial not-so-silent minority will be given pride of place in the attention of both the major political groupings. It is important to ensure that the minority vote does not become the voice of political blackmail, an acid test of the strength of character of our majority leaders in each Assembly.


Thinking Positive

Almost all political pundits within and outside the country had predicted a major victory for the PPP over the PML(N) in the National Assembly elections followed by a complete rout in the Provincial Assemblies round a few days later. As a part of overall PPP strategy the first round knockout of Nawaz Sharif was necessary as they were apprehensive of a repeat performance circa 1988 when the Punjab remained a thorn for the PPP Federal Government. However, contrary to the soothsayer’s hopes (rather than any calculated analysis) the PML(N) made a surprisingly strong showing in the general elections, emerging with a slight edge in voting percentage over the PPP nationally but losing out in the commensurate overall tally of seats. All the fears of a “hung” Parliament seem to have come true.

For the first time since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, PML has fought an election as an independent political entity and not as the contrived creation and/or appendage of the Establishment. Nawaz Sharif has provided the PPP its first real democratic Opposition in 25 years. By any reckoning, this has been a phenomenal performance given Ms Benazir’s undeniable charisma, the PPP’s well organised campaign machine and a strong grassroots support among the electorate. On the other hand, the bifurcation of the PML into various factions pre-elections meant that the PML(N) started bereft of a campaign machine, an almost non-existent party organisation that was cobbled together by a bunch of amateur but dedicated Nawaz-loyalists combining with a smattering of experienced professionals. Creating order out of chaos, they were able to translate their enthusiasm into political potency. However, there were glaring shortcomings e.g. the initial euphoria on October 6 night when the sweep of the urban areas convinced the PML(N) that they were well on the way to an overwhelming majority but were later embarrassed by the rural returns and that of the Seraiki belt. On the other hand (the much vilified) Hussain Haqqani of the PPP PR and media team gave a professional performance by disseminating accurate figures on both nights and did his credibility a world of good. For PPP this was the second time they went to the polls with home ground advantage (the first being the 1977 polls) because despite the cosmetics being aired about transparency and fairplay, the Caretaker Administration seemed to be supportive of a PPP victory. However, to the lasting credit of the Army and the civil administration, except for an odd exception or two at higher levels, they generally and genuinely remained neutral. For the Army this has been their finest hour, they maintained a “hands off” policy that contributed to the psyche of free and fair elections, they also managed to maintain commendable peace and harmony throughout the country. While the COAS must take credit as the head of the institution, congratulations are in order all around down the pecking list. One must commend the excellent role played by ISPR in keeping the Army’s public image free from controversy, this time they have functioned with maturity as per their mandate.


PPP Wins Battle, May Lose the War

In the National Assembly elections of Oct 6, 1993 the PPP with 86 seats got an edge of 14 seats over PML(N) with 72 seats. The failure to get a decisive knockout in the first round is catastrophic for the PPP given the percentage of votes Nawaz Sharif has managed to gain. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, after the Quaid had led the Muslim League in election victories pre-1947, the Old Party has made a decisive impact in Pakistan’s political life as a genuine political entity. Emerging from the clutches of the Establishment and machinations thereof, the Muslim League has broken the myth of invincibility that the PPP had inculcated over the years. It is most important to note that the PPP’s vote bank has remained secure at around 38-39% nationally with strong roots in all four Provinces.

Muslim League national vote percentage-wise was 40% with majority votes over PPP in Punjab (5%) and Sarhad (4%). It is now time to remove the (N) suffix from PML and acclaim Nawaz Sharif as the rightful heir of the Muslim League heritage. The Muslim Leaguers who were with Chattha should seriously think of either merging with the PPP or returning to the mainline ML fold. The lack of a clear majority for PPP can only translate at best into a weak Federal Government with the possibility of only one Provincial Government under its direct authority. Given the sorry history of Federal interference in Provincial affairs this could be the prescription that would be most advisable for Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty. In any case the first crack at making the Federal Government rightfully belongs to PPP in the supreme interest of democracy in Pakistan, one hopes that this will come about.


The MQM Boycott

The announcement by the MQM(A) that they will boycott the forthcoming elections has come as a great shock to the people of urban Sindh in particular and to the masses of Pakistan in general. The party is representative of Karachi and Hyderabad in the real sense and their absence from the electoral hustings would deprive these cities of a genuine voice in the National and Provincial Assemblies.

On the evening of September 28, it seemed that matters had been settled amicably at the highest level between the Army and the MQM hierarchy. Barely 48 hours later, the whole agreement was in shambles, what had gone wrong during this short interim period? From all accounts it seems that a small incident has been blown out of proportion subordinating the public interest to personal egos. Stating of the incident that seems to have triggered off the fresh squabble is not important, but it has brought back into focus all the suspicions in a rush and fostered misunderstanding between a primary national institution and a small but potent political force with a legitimate role to play on the national scene.