President Zardari has kept all the promises he intended to keep. Wheedling and bargaining, charming and cajoling – the last few months have seen vintage President Zardari in action, dipping into his bag of tricks and emerging with the promised lead in by-elections and a lion’s share in Senate. So much for Nawaz forcing early elections – close, Mian Sahib, but no cigar!
But now that the PPP is clearly ahead of the pack, here’s the next biggie: go for general elections immediately or hang on until 2013?
As the single largest party in the National Assembly and Senate, no one can mess with the PPP’s power to legislate; the Gilani contempt case looks more and more like a false dawn for PPP-haters; the courts and media have together tightened the noose on the security agencies; and the opposition is really just the government in exile – what more could the PPP ask for at this moment?
Is the quinquennium win – a five-year term – even worth it anymore?
Those who say ‘no’ argue that the PPP will be living on borrowed time post-March, mainly because as the next budgetary cycle rolls in, the government will surely run out of money and have to bank either on external rescuing or start printing money. Already, around Rs2-3 billion is being printed every single day, and these figures aren’t going to get any better.
But the naysayers forget something very simple. A fifth whole year in government also means a fifth whole year with the state’s resources at the PPP’s disposal; passing a new budget also means an opportunity to throw goodies at constituencies.
So this May, expect a pro-poor budget dripping with gravy. Don’t be surprised at announcements of little trinkets to make small farmers feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Look out for special programmes for food security and Waseela-e-Sehat type health insurance schemes. Expect to see Baitul Maal working on overdrive and the Benazir Employees Stock Option telling public sector workers they have ownership. Don’t be shocked if the minimum wage is raised and dowry grants announced for the daughters of factory workers. Don’t be outraged when graduates get one-year internships in the name of employment and income-generating schemes.
And rest assured, the PPP isn’t the only one that will play this game. On the front pages of several dailies, a smiling Nawaz and a smug Shahbaz are already giving away residential plots to ‘one lakh ten thousand’ lucky homeless villagers of Punjab. And we already know how the youth has been ‘empowered’ through the distribution of laptops by Khadim-e-Aala.
Any guesses why all these goodies are coming now?
Three words may best describe the Benazir Shaheed villages for flood-hit families and the PML-N’s laptop extravaganza: election year bribes, also known as the advance auction sale of stolen goods. Yup, this is the season of upfront-loading development funds: schemes marked for 2014 will suddenly be approved for 2012, all kinds of brilliant new projects to ‘benefit’ the poor will be speedily commissioned and the PM will use the state’s jets to zip over to five ‘least developed’ districts a day to cut all kinds of ribbons and hand over keys for all kinds of model homes. Election-year bribes in the guise of pro-poor initiatives – it doesn’t get any better.
And here’s another concept: pre-poll rigging – the subtle exercise that allows you to tilt the field in favour of, or against, a contestant. The impartiality of the caretaker government; neutrality of election administration staff; fair use of development funds – these are some of the indices using which the fairness of the pre-poll environment is scored. And the major political parties seem set to have a whale of a time with a whole year at their disposal.
The 20th amendment in place, ‘independent’ caretakers will be chosen combining the collective wisdom of the government and opposition. But the very process by which the mechanism was decided – the PPP browbeating the PML-N into submission – has revealed that the N-League is no longer too concerned that the prime minister and his protector, President Zardari, neither believe in ‘meaningful consultation,’ nor will shy from appointing ‘cronies’ – Chief Election Commissioner and head of the Accountability Bureau? – wherever necessary. Nisar’s “I can’t trust them anymore,” is now: “We have faith in the PPP’s commitments.” From principled to pragmatic politics in one amendment? Oh well. Here’s to consensus, Nawaz the matured moderate, and all the other joys of democracy.
So, it looks like all the important players will be agreed on the interim set-up to oversee the next elections. And we can also be certain to see the PPP going ahead with massive administrative postings and transfers of choice in the coming months; a few thanaydaars here, election administrative staff there, etc. And the beauty of it all: no matter how blatantly non-transparent the process, the interim folks probably won’t squeal because, well, what are a few postings and transfers among friends, right?
And the lagniappe, the little something thrown in for free: AZ as president in 2013 gets to say goodbye to the invincibles-in-chief and see the appointment of the new army chief and chief justice.
On the other hand is a PML-N trying to hide its genuine fear of the Imran Khan monster lurking in the closet. If for nothing else, the snoozing party has been awakened by the IK-factor and realises it needs time to get the voters and candidates onside. The N-Leaguers understands that while IK can criticise the Sharifs until hell freezes over, at the end of the day he can’t go out and get a road built – Shahbaz can. And while IK may have the impassioned voter, he doesn’t have the old party worker – Nawaz does.
In the battle between Itchy & Scratchy, a year can make all the difference.
So, think again: early elections after this Senate win or hang on until 2013?
The article was published in The News (Print) on March , 06, 2013