A complexity of challenges faces new Pakistan prime minister

March 23rd, 2008 - 11:31 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By C. Uday Bhaskar
Pakistan’s long awaited tryst with truly participatory democracy has finally begun - but the challenges ahead are daunting. President Pervez Musharraf has called for the convening of the newly elected National Assembly Monday (March 24) and the Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the single largest party in the just elected legislature, has finally ended the suspense of who will be the interim prime minister of Pakistan. Former speaker Yusuf Raza Gillani has been nominated to head the government over the other three PPP contenders, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Earlier Wednesday, the democracy experiment in Pakistan scored a notable gender victory when Fehmida Mirza was elected the first ever woman speaker of the assembly. Her task will be to steer a nascent coalition of anti-Musharraf parties through a complex constitutional and political minefield even while the new government seeks to meet the aspirations and rising expectations of a vibrant electorate. The latter are reeling under a slew of deteriorating socio-economic conditions ranging from a steep rise in the price of essential commodities such as food and petrol to an alarming drop in power generation.

The socio-religious fabric within Pakistan, which has seen a steady increase in suicide bombing attacks and right-wing extremism, has now spread to Islamabad and Lahore - the very heart of the Pakistani state and the army establishment.

Thus the Gillani government which will soon be in the saddle will have to evolve appropriate short-term tactical approaches along with its new-found coalition partners, the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Awami National Party (ANP) from the Pakhtoon dominated NWFP.

The operative word here is ’short-term’ - for the yet to be sworn in Gillani team knows that theirs will be an interim government. The leader of the PPP, Asif Zardari, the widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto, is the real PM in waiting and it is expected that in a few months he will be elected to the assembly and thereby become eligible to be the prime minister.

It may be recalled that Zardari had not planned to contest the elections since his wife Benazir was the undisputed face and leader of the PPP - but the tragedy that befell her and Pakistan in December last has led to the current sequence of events in the electoral history of Pakistan.

Perhaps it is history and culture that will determine the future course of the courageous Pakistani grapple with democracy, wherein the long pent-up aspirations of civil society as reflected in the Feb 18 elections will be pitted against the nine year Musharraf reign and the dominant impress of the Pakistani ‘fauj’ (armed forces).

To that extent, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the real civilian power behind the Gillani fa

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