By: Javed Malik
When the Karachi-based political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, walked out of the federal cabinet, political observers were essentially split in two different opinions.
Some dismissed it as just another short-lived political maneuver aimed at getting better cabinet slots, which would also act as a power tool to pressurise the government into giving MQM a greater role in decision-making, at least in the provincial government. Others saw it quite differently. They argued that the MQM, which has been making a deliberate effort to position itself as a mainstream political force now wishes to reach out to a much larger audience outside their traditional stronghold of urban Sindh. Having realised that this goal cannot be attained if they continue sitting on the treasury benches, MQM has made a carefully thought out decision to move away from a government that was loosing its popularity and struggling with allegations of corruption and bad governance. This latter opinion gained further steam when the MQM having left the cabinet a few days earlier, then took the next logical step to formally sit on the opposition benches. Political observers were now beginning to take MQM’s stance more seriously. A glance at the print and electronic media at that time would tell you that MQM’s standing in the public eye had also received a boost.
MQM has historically suffered with an image problem. The reasons for this perception (right or wrong) we will leave for another day, but for now I can tell you their stance had certainly made a somewhat positive impact on its image building exercise. However, the sudden change of heart after meeting the beleaguered prime minister might have reversed it all. It has also, once again, confused many friends of MQM within the media, and all of a sudden those who were always predicting that the party would not last long in the opposition were now having a field day all over the news channels taking credit for their political farsightedness. MQM’s departure from the government may have been confusing for some, but the haste with which they have returned back to the treasury benches has baffled everyone.
This calls for a serious soul-searching for the MQM policy-makers, as they would now be faced with an onslaught of questions about their priorities. MQM has a plethora of media savvy speakers, and I am sure they would do their best to explain it all away but I sincerely hope that in doing so they don’t use the famous (or should be say infamous?) cliché that “we did this to save the system”.
On the other hand Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani is apparently claiming victory for having ‘won back’ his allies to cling on to power for some time longer. Is it really a victory or has the prime minister dug himself deeper into trouble. Political observers are already questioning whether the prime minister in his haste to save his government may have ended up making commitments to the MQM, which quite frankly, he is in no position to deliver. It is also true that his own economic managers, who were heavily relying on the RGST and a hike in petroleum prices, are now left with a huge hole in their revenue projections. It would be interesting to see how they will now balance their books while keeping the IMF at bay, petrol prices low, and without imposing the RGST. Having said that they would also have to make provisions for providing relief to the common man who seems to be sinking deeply below the poverty line.
So, in a bid to save his own premiership has Mr Gillani bitten off more than he can chew? Only time will tell. From our part we can always wish him luck.
The people of Pakistan have been carefully watching the developments with keen interest, thanks to our media, and in my view, every political party whether in government or opposition is now under the spotlight. It is for the people to decide whom they will support, and that is an encouraging sign. Let us see how they react to MQM’s quick stint in opposition, which lasted only for a week? Or how they would view the stance taken by the JUI-F, which has called for the prime minister’s removal?
Of course, they also have a choice to celebrate with Prime Minister Gillani for having saved his premiership. Or are they more likely to identify themselves with Nawaz Sharif’s agenda of reform that aims to address some of the major issues facing Pakistan? One can only hope they choose wisely, for that is what democracy is all about.
Javed Malik is a noted television anchor and Executive Director of the UK-based The World Forum