Pakistan’s coalition government founders
When former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, agreed in March to form a coalition government in Pakistan, the words of the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli seemed apt:
“Coalitions, though successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief,” I quoted him as saying, in a posting which asked whether the coalition between Sharif’s PML (N) and Zardari’s PPP would survive.
It turns out the triumph has been even briefer than many expected. Sharif pulled his party out of the government on Monday, though he said his PML (N) party would continue to support the PPP-led government in parliament, rather than sit in outright opposition. At issue were differences over the restoration of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf when he declared a state of emergency in November, and over the future of the former army general who ousted Sharif in a 1999 coup.
(The judiciary issue is fiendishly complex, but to simplify, Sharif wanted a complete restoration of the judges, who then in turn might have posed legal challenges to Musharraf. Zardari wanted the judges restored, but with their wings clipped. Zardari is also seen as less hostile to Musharraf than Sharif.)
Interestingly, the collapse of the coalition government came when many were calling on Sharif and Zardari to reach a consensus in order to concentrate on tackling Pakistan’s economic problems, and the challenges of reining in Islamist militants.
“The return to democracy in 2008 may be about to push the country to the brink of disaster simply because our politicians and media are not capable of taking the long view,” the Daily Times said in an editorial on Monday before Sharif announced he was pulling his party out of the government. “The two parties must accommodate each other’s positions and move on from the present deadlock and deal with the bigger problems whose solution is overdue,” it said.
According to a poll by the blog All Things Pakistan, only 22 percent of respondents believed the row over the judges would kill off the coalition by the end of May.
So will this latest political crisis push Pakistan to what the Daily Times called “the brink of disaster”? Or is there a new resilience in the political system following the February elections that will see the country through?
And what does this mean for Musharraf, who as this blog said at the time must have been hoping after the February elections that the political parties would squabble too much among themselves to form an effective coalition against him?