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Monday, January 7, 2008

Pakistan Politics after Benazir Bhutto:
January 7, 2008.
On 27 December, Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack while she was leaving the venue of her public meeting, Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. As the, shocking and stunning, news of her assassination spread, the country plunged into a serious crisis and turmoil.

The ensuing three-day violence left more than fifty dead, and public and private properties, including government installations, Banks, Gas Stations, Railway Stations, Trains, factories, shops and vehicles, worth billons of rupees were destroyed, burnt or looted.

On 30 December, the Central Committee of the PPP announced that Benazir’s son Bilawal, who assumed the name of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, was to be the new Chairperson, and Asif Ali Zardari the Co-Chairperson of the party.

As per announcement, Asif Ali Zardari was to look after the affairs of the party till the education of Bilawal was completed. Simultaneously, the PPP nominated Makhdoom Amin Fahim as the candidate of the party for the office of Prime Minister and demanded that the polls should be held as per schedule on 8 January 2008.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto had raised serious questions about the timing or even holding of general elections and the future political dispensation.

Barring PPP, some parties contemplated to boycott the elections if they are not delayed till the passions subside. While PML(N) leader Nawaz Shareef announced to boycott the elections immediately after Benazir Bhutto’s killing. It was generally believed, if elections were held on January 8, the appointed day, there is a looming danger of serious violence, if the opponents of the PPP decide to contest them fiercely.

Al though the elections have been deferred until February 18, the sympathy wave for the PPP is very strong and emotionlly charged and it may result in over turning of many a crowns in Sindh.

The PPP supporters expectations are extremely high, many believe that they are going to secure a sweeping victory, at least, in Sindh and the lower Punjab. They believe it would win a comfortable majority in the National Assembly to form government single-handedly at federal level with the support of PML (N).

But it may opt to take any or all of the ANP, the JUI, the MQM and some faction/s and even defections from the PML (Q) to further strengthen its government, diluting the potential opposition. Besides, it would need support of the ANP / the JUI as coalition partner/s in the NWFP and of the JUI / the ANP / the Jam Yousuf and / or Zafarulllah Khan Jamali factions of the PML (Q) in Balochistan.

Numerically, the highly charged optimists believe, it would be in a position to form its government in Sindh without the support of the MQM but, in order to ensure smooth running and avoid law and order problem, it would like to take the MQM on board. In Punjab, it may join hand with the PML (N) and / or some faction of the PML (Q).

All other parties would, still be the losers. The PML (Q) and the PML (F) would find it near impossible to withstand the PPP onslaught in lower Punjab and interior Sindh. The Upper Punjab is likely to be shared by the PPP, the PML (N) and the PML (Q).

The MQM would not be able to make any headway in interior Sindh and on traditional PPP seats in Karachi and Hyderabad. It may even lose an odd seat in Karachi if the PPP and the PML (N) join hands. The ANP that wants to capture a lion’s share of the MMA seats in the NWFP would find the PPP a tough competitor.

The election results would place the PPP in a very strong bargaining position vis-a-vis all its potential or prospective partners. It would considerably restrict Musharraf’s ability to maneuver during government formation or have his way afterwards. The only silver lining for him is that Makhdoom Amin Fahim is by nature not very assertive person.

The pessimist fear the postponment of elections to February 18, has raised concerns and serious doubts that the sympathy wave for the PPP may subside. Some cracks may appear within its ranks even before elections. At some stage in future the PPP (Shaheed Bhutto) may cast shadow over the PPP if Mumtaz Bhutto and Sanam Bhutto recognize Fatima Bhutto or Zulfikar Bhutto junior as the legitimate heir of the Bhutto dynasty. In a patriarchal society, it is bloodline from male off- spring that ultimately counts.

The PPP’s chances of securing majority of seats in the National Assembly would be considerably reduced. It may end up emerging as only the single largest party and may even lose Punjab to the PML (N).

It would have to rely much on the coalition partners in the provinces and at the federal level.

All parties other than the PPP would be the beneficiaries. The PML (Q) and the PML (N) are to benefit the most. The PML (Q) would be able to reopen many of its offices and reorganize its election campaign. Its workers would be relieved of present depression and the nazims would become active.

The PML (N) would benefit from those traditional non-PPP voters who have been swept by the sympathy wave for the PPP after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and who don’t want to cast vote for the PML (Q). Since the JUI has disappointed the Islamic-minded voters and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) is not in the contest, a considerable number of those who voted for the MMA in 2002 are likely to vote for the PML (N).

The ANP may benefit in the NWFP and the MQM-PML (F) candidates to some extent in interior Sindh.

The election results in which any single party is not at the commanding height would enhance Musharraf’s ability to maneuver during and even after the government formation. Besides, it seems the US permutation for giving Pakistan a democratic face lift has for now been totally derailed. Pragmatically, it(USA) may have to live with Musharraf for now, without a face lift, even if the elections went ahead.

The run up to the elections on February 18, may have many a bridges to cross, as Aashura-e-Muharram, the spiraling cost of Wheat Flour, the gas and electricity shortages, resulting the people, particularly Central an northern parts of the country in these harsh winter time, highly charged electioneering, the lurking threats from Islamists and may be more. These elements appear to be lethal components of the concoctions those could result in derailment of the process or worse.

The expectations and actual out come on the day of the polls would dictate the future course of Pakistan, for good or bad or worse, the ugly.

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