Endgame has begun in Pakistan’s politics: report


Islamabad : The endgame seems to have begun in Pakistan’s politics with events set to unfold in the coming weeks that could have a major impact on the political, constitutional and security situation, a report Sunday said.

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“There are some who believe the countdown may have already begun,” said Dawn, one of Pakistan’s most respected newspapers.

“Others equally close to the country’s political and security establishment are of the view that the exercise to explore options to end the current atmosphere of uncertainty was still on, which was aimed at avoiding any drastic measure that may undermine the entire system,” it added.

Amidst the issues to be resolved are President Pervez Musharraf’s position as head of state and army chief, the judiciary’s role as an independent body for delivering justice, and the fate of the present assemblies.

Then, the appointment of the new army chief is expected and this individual is likely to succeed Musharraf if he decides to shed his uniform before running for a second term in office as president.

“The most crucial (issue) is the president’s election as the incumbent has already declared his desire to get himself re-elected for another five-year term. This move alone is directly linked to all other matters, be they administrative, political or constitutional,” Dawn noted.

In this context, the Election Commission’s reported amendment of the rules for presidential candidates to pave the way for Musharraf’s re-election could put in on a collision course with the Supreme Court. The court will begin considering the issue from Monday.

“The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has amended the rules and now President Musharraf is very much eligible to contest the elections for another five-year term,” Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan told IANS.

Starting Monday, a nine-member Supreme Court bench will begin hearing a clutch of constitutional petitions to decide whether Musharraf is entitled to hold his twin offices.

It goes to the credit of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry that he has decided against presiding over the bench, given the legal spat following his sacking by Musharraf and his subsequent reinstatement by the apex court.

Regardless of what the court decides, the CEC will have to announce the schedule for the president’s elections soon.

“However, it has been a matter of intense debate within the legal fraternity whether the assemblies, whose members form the electoral college for the president’s election, can be dissolved once the election date is set and the schedule announced,” Dawn noted.

The issue is simple: can the assemblies that elected Musharraf in 2002 re-elect him without themselves being re-elected?

“There are several lawyers who say such an issue has never come before a court of law and, in the present situation, the issue of president’s moral, if not constitutional, authority may come into question if an attempt is made to dissolve the assembly once there is a clear verdict about his own candidature,” the newspaper maintained.

Some members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) admit that this creates a serious problem for the president. If the Supreme Court’s verdict comes after the announcement of the elections schedule, and is against his right to hold two offices, it may leave no choice for the general but to opt out of the race.

“The big question is, given the current political and security situation, can he afford to take such a risk?” Dawn wondered.

“Sources close to the decision-making group in the presidential camp say that with so much at stake, the president may not like to become a casualty of what has come to be known as judicial activism. If true, then the possibility of an extreme administrative action by him, and that too in the next few days, starts to look real,” it stated.

What are Musharraf’s options?

One is to declare emergency rule of a kind only a notch less than martial law. In such a situation, all fundamental rights could be suspended and even judicial activism could be curbed.

“Regardless of the controversial nature of such a move, it may give Musharraf some time, possibly a year, to consolidate his rule and re-think his policies,” Dawn pointed out.

The other option would be to dissolve the National Assembly on the prime minister’s advice without waiting for the Supreme Court’s verdict on the presidential elections.

This would mean postponement of the presidential election, giving Musharraf a few more months, as article 41 (4) of the constitution says the elections would then be held 30 days after the election of the new national assembly.

“Yet another option is to dissolve the assembly after striking a deal with (former prime minister) Benazir Bhutto to ensure his re-election as a civilian president from the new assemblies.

“The deal would mean a constitutional amendment for getting a waiver from a two-year ban on retiring government servants contesting and holding public office. In return he may have to accept her terms, including the abolition of the president’s controversial power to dissolve the assembly under Article 58-2(b) and removal of the ban from becoming a prime minister for the third time,” Dawn said.

This would then also mean that Musharraf would need to appoint his successor in the army, “with the hope that he is not only competent but also has a sense of loyalty towards him and allegiance to his political and security policies.

“Most observers say all this is easier said than done. They also agree that it’s a race against time for the president and he needs to act fast,” Dawn said.

“Most observers say the president is contemplating action in the coming days to protect his rule but what he needs to realize is that after serving for eight years, it may be time for him to think in terms of an exit strategy.

“This strategy could span a few weeks, months or even a couple of years, depending on how he plays his cards,” the newspaper maintained.