Pakistan’s political equations to alter after Senate elections

January 20th, 2009 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Jan 20 (IANS) Political equations in Pakistan will alter sharply after the Senate elections in March that will see the ruling coalition gain a two-thirds majority in the upper house of parliament.This is because the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which leads the ruling federal coalition and has a presence in all the four provincial governments but lacks a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, would be better placed to take on the principal opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and even the erstwhile ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

As things stand now, the PPP has 125 seats in the 342-member National Assembly. Its allies, the Muttahida Quami Movement (25), Awami National Party (13), Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (7), Functional League (5) and 18 independents give the coalition 193 members in the house.

This leaves it 35 short of a two-thirds majority but reaching the mark in the Senate would put it in a better position to dictate terms to the PML-Q, which has 53 members in the lower house and thus marginalise the PML-N.

It’s an open secret that the PPP is in talks with the various factions of the PML-Q on supporting the government, with the only question being how many of its MPs would come on board.

A two-thirds majority in both houses is vital if the controversial 17th Amendment that former military dictator Pervez Musharraf had pushed through to give the presidency all encompassing powers is to be repealed - a demand that has been universally made by Pakistan’s political parties, including the PPP.

However, the manner in which this is to be done is proving to be a sticky point.

The PML-N wants to link the repeal to the restoration of the 19 Supreme Court judges Musharraf sacked when he declared an emergency in November 2007. Zardari is extremely wary of this as he fears that sacked chief justice Ifthikar Mohammad Chaudhury, if reinstated could revive the various corruption cases against him that had been closed as part of a deal that saw him and his slain wife Benazir Bhutto return home from exile in October 2007.

The PPP, in fact, had agreed to the reinstatement of the judges when it formed a coalition government with the PML-N after their one-two finish in the February 2008 general elections. The PPP then backtracked, prompting the PML-N to walk out.

As The News daily noted Tuesday, any thaw in the frostiness is unlikely.

“When the PPP will elect its own upper house chairman after already having its representatives as the president, the prime minister and the National Assembly speaker, it will be hardly attracted by even the thought of a pleasant minimum working relationship with the PML-N, what to speak of any cooperation,” it quoted a prominent party leader as saying.

On its part, the PPP has not publicly stated its stance on the manner in which the 17th Amendment should be repealed. This is because Zardari is known to be keen on transferring the powers of the presidency to the prime minister’s office and then occupying that post.

Gilani, whom many considered a political lightweight and a pushover when he was selected for the job, has thus far been resisting the move. However, once the PPP gains a two-thirds majority in the Senate and works out the equations in the lower house, Gilani would find his scope for manoeuvering severely limited and would have no option but to fall in line.

Zardari, after all, is the co-chair of the PPP, which is headed by his absentee son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a student at Oxford.

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