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Forcing The Gates

There can be no approbation strong enough for the demonic act of the cartoons caricaturing our beloved Prophet (Peace Be upon Him (PBUH)). The muslim reaction is only a reflection of the deep-rooted suspicions that other religions have ganged up in a well-thought out conspiracy, the disrespect for our Prophet (PBUH) meant as a deliberate provocation. An idiot of an Italian Minister wore the despicable cartoon on a T-Shirt, very correctly (and swiftly) the Italian PM and his cabinet sacked him. Before enraged protestors could overwhelm and burn the Italian Consulate in Ben Ghazi, Libyan internal security forces killed eleven (including some foreigners among the Libyans).


Good Governance Versus Populism

Good governance and populism cannot co-exist for long. History is replete with instances of (1) popular leaders failing to give good governance and (2) leaders who give good governance being hardly popular, at least during their lifetimes. While it would be too simplistic to say that popular leaders are not capable of good governance, that is only possible by leaders who are prepared to be unpopular i.e. have the ability to take tough decisions. Sher Shah Suri, who drove the Moghul Emperor Jahangir from his throne, was hardly as popular as the royal potentate he deposed, yet the short five years of reign before he died (and Jahangir was welcomed back by a fickle people as a conquering hero) is quoted as the one rule in the history of the sub-continent that is seen as the best period of South Asian administration. For that matter the two hundred years of British rule till 1947 over India was hardly populist in nature, it was tough but fair and counted as an example of good governance.

If we are to add up the “good governance” scorecard of the military regime uptil Oct 12 there are many more pluses than minuses, if we were to go back further to the days before the President started his Referendum campaign, then those pluses are far more than those visible today. The “Referendum” can be said to be the watershed of the Musharraf Regime; his rule being divided into the period “before Referendum” (BR) and “after Referendum” (AR). On the balance sheet the military regime has done extremely well BR but in public perception it has failed the acid test of credibility AR. While there were some misgivings before the elections as to supporting of favourites, a lot of people who supported Gen Musharraf wholeheartedly have been turned off AR by the goings-on of the last 9 weeks or so. The Oct 12 results dictated a PML(Q)-led coalition in the Centre, an MMA government in NWFP, Balochistan with a “pot-pourri coalition” inclusive of the PML(Q) as a senior partner and PPP-led coalition in Sindh. This master plan was scuttled by the “Fazlur Rehman spanner” that Ms Benazir threw into the works, thereafter the regime’s wise men decided that the PPP did not deserve any democratic consideration. In the process they used the “Patriots” to shoot down the PPP’s aspirations for having their man as PM, they then got carried away and put paid to any PPP hopes to making the government in Sindh. While this may be good in the short run, the compromise choice of Chief Minister, Ali Mohammad Maher, does not excite much confidence in sustaining this coalition rule for any length of time. He may well surprise us by having strength presently not visible on the surface, at the moment he is very much a “puppet on a string”.


Mixed Trend

According to a pre-polls survey conducted by Research & Collection Services (RCS) on behalf of THE NATION, despite winning 18-20% of the nationwide vote, the alliance of religious parties Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), was not translating this vote bank into seats. This wrong surmise was the only real casualty of the survey with respect to NWFP, MMA confounded skeptics in the Province by sweeping the polls, and doing far better in Balochistan than expected. The alliance was far more potent electorally in these two Provinces than in Punjab and Sindh. Not to say that they did not cause a couple of upsets in Sindh, particularly in Karachi where, despite controlling the Local Bodies in an election boycotted by the MQM, they were not expected to create any dents in the MQM vote bank. Other than their traditional strongholds in the mountains the MMA swept aside the liberal ANP and the PPP-P in their Peshawar valley fiefdom. The local alliance between ANP and PPP-P proved fatal for the two political parties. Only Aftab Sherpao’s faction of PPP survived this onslaught, and that only because of seat adjustment with MMA.

The MMA emergence is a great blessing in disguise for Pakistan. For the first time since 1947, the Shia-Sunni divide has been bridged, they voted for the same cause. And Iran’s model gives us hope, to stay the pace of the modern world, the Mullahs had to come into line, including the treating of women as equal to men. Things went more or less as predicted in the rest of the country, except that in Lahore, PML (Q) was routed because of the clean seat adjustments between PPP-P, PML (N) and MMA. Electorally the results in Balochistan remained as mixed as usual. The MQM lost ground very slightly in Karachi and Hyderabad but was compensated by the almost 30% increase in urban seats. By the time this goes into print, the final results will be in but these are hardly likely to be so dramatic as to change the political kaleidoscope predicted by the THE NATION’s pre-polls.