One can be sure it is election time when coalition governments start falling apart and political allies look around for new partners. This is what is happening in Sindh right now and could also happen in other provinces in the run-up to the polls.
The Pir Pagaro-led PML-Functional (what a name, denoting that all other factions of the Pakistan Muslim League are non-functional), the PML-Q spearheaded by the powerful Mehar clan, the NPP headed by the Jatois, and the ANP representing a significant segment of Pakhtuns in Sindh have all pulled out of the PPP-led provincial government to protest the Sindh Local Government Ordinance.
In their view, the new structure of local government is meant to appease the MQM, at the expense of rural Sindh. Another major complaint is that these parties weren’t consulted by the PPP before it cut the night-time deal with the MQM.
No doubt the issue that prompted the leaders of these smaller political parties to abandon the PPP-MQM coalition is important, but it is also true that they were part and parcel of the government for four-and-a-half years and had not taken such a drastic step when important decisions were made apparently without their consent.
They were also not perturbed when Sindh – Karachi, in particular – suffered from lawlessness and bloodshed and its economy was badly damaged. As those issues concerned the common man, and not the leaders of the ruling political parties, they didn’t feel the need to sacrifice their jobs in the cabinet for the cause of others.
After they have enjoyed power for so long, it won’t harm these parties to quit the government for some months in the hope of winning a sympathy vote in the coming election. As far as one remembers, the PML-F has been part of almost every government in Sindh in recent years, and so have the Jatois of the NPP. Though finding an excuse for pulling out of the government isn’t difficult, the Local Government Ordinance gave these parties a perfect reason to give up power at the fag end of the full five-year term.
Now is the time to start finding fault with the government and in those running the show, though didn’t most Pakistanis already know that Qaim Ali Shah was a weak chief minister of Sindh and the PPP was vulnerable when confronted by MQM’s street power and political tactics? And that the two parties have been negotiating, agreeing and disagreeing on the issue of running the local government system in urban and rural Sindh?
Isn’t it common knowledge that MQM founder Altaf Hussain is a British national able to pull the strings from faraway London and dictate terms to protect the interests of his party? And that President Asif Ali Zardari is hiding behind presidential immunity to deflect serious cases of money-laundering and misuse of power?
All this was widely known, but it didn’t stop these parties from making unnatural alliances and becoming part of the unwieldy coalition government in Sindh for temporary gains.
However, it may not be the end of these alliances, now or in the future. The PPP, as the dominant party and in power, still has much to offer in terms of development funds and perks and privileges close to the general election. These things matter in influencing the outcome of the vote. The PPP will also have a role to play in the formation of the caretaker government tasked to hold the next polls.
Keeping the PPP out of power in its stronghold of Sindh would be difficult even if its share of vote in the province could shrink in the polls in view of the poor performance of the Zardari government. The same parties now pulling away from the PPP, and also the MQM, would probably be keen to strike new alliances with these two major political parties of Sindh after the election to seek their share in power. Being in power is far more alluring than becoming part of the opposition.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org