Pakistan’s political scenario hots up ahead of parliament session

January 8th, 2009 - 4:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Nawaz SharifIslamabad, Jan 8 (IANS) Despite sub-continental tensions in the wake of the Mumbai terror carnage, the political scenario in Pakistan is heating up ahead of the parliament session beginning Monday.On the one hand, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is in merger talks with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) that it ousted in last February’s general elections which saw the return of a civilian government after nine years of military rule.

But then, the PML-Q is also in talks with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on a possible merger. In fact, the PML-Q had broken away from the PML-N to contest the 2002 general elections that former military dictator Pervez Musharraf called in 2002, three years after ousting Sharif in a bloodless coup.

This apart, the PML-N plans to move a resolution in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to abolish the controversial 17th amendment to the constitution that Musharraf had pushed through. This amendment gives the president unbridled powers to dismiss the prime minister and parliament and to make key appointments like the Supreme Court chief justice and the three service chiefs.

The removal of the amendment - and the return of its provisions to the prime minister - was one of the key issues the PPP and the PML-N had agreed to when they came together to form a coalition after emerging as the two largest parties after the February 2008 general elections.

The PPP reneged on this, and on a number of other issues like restoring former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and the Supreme Court judges that Musharraf had sacked after declaring an emergency in November 2007. This prompted the PML-N to pull out of the ruling coalition.

On its part, the PPP is in no hurry to abrogate the 17th Amendment.

Commenting on the moves between the PPP and the PML-Q, The News Thursday quoted sources to say that Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was “playing a vital role” in bringing the parties closer not only in Punjab but also at the centre.

Noting that the PML-Q “has made it clear” that it would like to “play its due role at the centre and would not confine itself to Punjab”, the newspaper quoted informed circles to say that talks between the two parties “would be finalised before the Senate elections”.

Taseer’s appointment has been highly controversial as the PML-N that heads Punjab’s ruling coalition in which the PPP is, ironically enough, the junior partner, views this as an attempt to destabilize the government.

In a separate dispatch, The News quoted PML-Q Senator Salim Saifullah Khan as saying that Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the Punjab chief minister, “were positive” about exploring ways for the two Leagues to join hands.

Khan spoke after meeting the Sharifs at their Raiwind country villa near Lahore Tuesday.

“Saifullah agreed that he held deliberations with the PML-N leadership without consulting his party’s top leaders but insisted he commanded majority support of the PML-Q, as he had been floating this idea before the party leaders,” The News said.

As for the bill to abolish the 17th Amendment, the newspaper said the government was unlikely to oppose its tabling but the measure would get nowhere.

“The moving of the 18th constitutional amendment bill to be presented on January 12, will however, be no more than a political gimmick because its sponsors know the proposed legislation cannot sail through parliament without government’s support,” the newspaper added.

It also quoted a PML-N senator as justifying the bill.

“We want to show our sincerity to eliminate the dictator’s amendments although we are well aware that it can’t be passed unless the ruling coalition votes for it,” the senior explained.

According to a source close to President Asif Ali Zardari, he wanted a balance between the powers enjoyed by the head of the state and those of the prime minister, “yet he would not let the minority dictate him”.

“The president doesn’t want to turn his office to a dummy status,” the source said, adding: “The PML-N with 90 MNAs and a few senators would not be allowed to impose its will on the majority.”

Thus, the government “would let (parliament’s) standing committee scrutinise the bill threadbare and give it a final shape only after evolving an across-the-board consensus among the parliamentary players,” the source added.

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