Is it back to the politics of the nineties all over again? It may just be, if politicians’ rancorous personal attacks against one another – which have replaced all sense of caution and patience – are any yardstick of the political mood. Earlier, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif could be heard muddying the political waters with his incendiary comments about the person of the president, likening him and his government to ‘Ali Baba and Forty Thieves’ and in fact going as far as to say that he did not consider a duly elected president as president. Now, it looks like it is President Zardari’s turn to strike. Addressing a meeting of PPP workers at the residence of Manzoor Ahmed Wasan in the Kot Diji area, he spoke at length about the political situation in Punjab, claiming that the next chief minister of the province would be from the PPP. And he did not stop here, going on to claim that Shahbaz Sharif’s government in Punjab only existed because of him, and if he had wanted, he could have refused the Punjab government to Mian Nawaz Sharif. Just a few months ago also, while addressing a meeting of PPP ticket-holders and other party members from Lahore on April 5, the president had a similar outburst where he called the Sharifs mere refugees in Lahore who did not even have enough followers in the city to gather for the funeral of their father. Just a few days ago, the deputy prime minister, also a member of a coalition party, also taunted the PML-N about its dwindling popularity and said that during his recent tour of Sindh, Nawaz was seen making alliances with non-entities as well as anti-Pakistan elements such as the nationalists. In the meantime, the PML-N seems to have conveyed the message to PPP ally MQM that it is not keen on meeting MQM leaders on the issue of holding a roundtable conference on internal issues and external threats. It seems, from all ends, that the political fault lines are growing. Whatever happened to the politics of reconciliation and consensus?
There is no gainsaying that while Zardari may possibly be forgiven for making acerbic and personal comments against the opposition in his capacity as co-chairperson of the PPP, but as president, the head of the state and symbol of the federation, such low blows are unacceptable. One would expect at least a minimum level of political maturity and high-mindedness from the man who sits at the Presidency. For him to say that the opposition’s political fortunes are his to give and take away does not sound a positive knell for the state of politics in the country. Not too long ago, the president had his minions – Babar Awan being one of them – tasked with spearheading the more provocative and confrontational brand of politics. Has the president stepped up to do the job himself now? The president has also announced that he now plans to spend more time in Lahore and other key cities to remain in close and direct contact with party workers in the province. So, as election year rolls in and the president heads over to Punjab, fiery speeches attacking the opposition are only to be expected. However, some ground rules need to be set. Democracy is about popular politics, which in turn entail establishing certain benchmarks of ethical and responsible behaviour. Adherence to these standards in an election year, especially by the president of the country, is crucial.