When Mr Zafarullah Khan Jamali was elected Leader of the House by 172 votes on Thursday – a mere six votes more than the 166 needed out of the 330 who have taken oath – he seemed mightily relieved. Indeed, that is why he thanked so many people by name, including several two-bit party “leaders”, for helping him scrape through with the skin of his back teeth. But he could not muster the courage to name two critical allies without whom he would have been whistling in the dark: Mr Altaf Hussain, who is accused of terrorism, murder, etc, and suffers self-exile, but who agreed to hand over 19 votes to him; and Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat, who is weighted down by the NAB, but who provided 11 turncoat votes to tilt the scales in Mr Jamali’s balance at the last minute. Ironically enough, though, Mr Hussain and Mr Hayat have one thing in common: each is at the mercy of the man to whom Mr Jamali owes his greatest debt – General Pervez Musharraf , who broke every rule in the book to ensure his “win”.
The next step is for Mr Jamali to take an oath as prime minister and follow that up by a vote of confidence of a majority of the members of the national assembly within 60 days. Should he do so immediately after being sworn in, he will require a miminum of 166 out of 330 votes. But if he waits until twelve new members have been elected in the bye-elections and sworn in, he will have to account for at least 172 in a House of 342. In any event, that should not pose any serious problems for him in the short term because his mentors will make sure that the PMLQ and its allies win at least 8 out of the twelve seats in contention. But what then? Will the MMA or PPP join Mr Jamali’s dubious coalition and make it stable and strong? Or is he fated to confront a strong and stable opposition instead which will send his government scurrying for cover at the drop of a hat?
The lucid speeches made in the national assembly by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Qazi Hussain Ahmad following Mr Jamali’s “thank-you” note suggest he is in for a rough time. The MMA and PPP leaders are sticking to their guns: they say they don’t accept the LFO and they won’t allow him to be president and army chief at the same time. This means they want him to come to the national assembly to negotiate the terms of his presidency and the scope of his powers as a civilian president. The MMA also intends to push for an “Islamisation” of state and society. But more critically, the MMA is dead set on embarrassing General Musharraf vis a vis his multi-faceted alliance with the United States. It may be noted that Mr Jamali studiously avoided risking any remark on these subjects. In fact, he was conspicuous by only noting China as a “friend”, even though he must be aware, like most others, that the substance of the economic “achievements” touted by General Musharraf in his address to the nation on Thursday night has flowed in large measure from the United States and the western international community after 9/11 when Pakistan and its military leader were nudged to transform themselves from a “failing state” with a “pariah dictator” into a “trusted ally” and “warm friend” respectively.
Fortunately, though, the mood in the National Assembly is still one of moderation and compromise. Mr Jamali was careful to point out that he would behave “democratically” with friends and opponents alike. The same tone was adopted by the MMA and PPP leaders who spoke on the occasion, even though they did not spare the Musharraf regime for midwifing the birth of the PMLQ and Mr Jamali. Indeed, in a subtle, behind-the-scenes compromise missed by most pundits, the opposition both rejected the LFO and accepted the legitimacy of the 11 votes cast by Faisal Saleh Hayat and Co that clinched the prime minister’s slot for Mr Jamali. This amounts to a contradiction in terms. If the MMA/PPP reject the LFO, they must logically also reject the suspension of the constitutional clause banning floor crossing decreed by the LFO, which means that the opposition should have demanded that the 11 votes cast by the turncoats be declared null and void by the Speaker. If the Speaker had acceded to the demand (unlikely), Mr Jamali wouldn’t have got a majority. If the Speaker hadn’t, the opposition could have boycotted the election process. In either case, General Musharraf would have had a right royal crisis on his hands. But that didn’t happen, suggesting that the opposition wants this parliament to survive and fight.
This is a good time for General Pervez Musharraf to demonstrate the same maturity as the opposition. He should climb off his high horse and make a historic compromise for the sake of the “true democracy” he professes. This can only be done by negotiating a permanent peace with parliament as a duly elected civilian president with some of the “stabilising” powers he seeks. The alternative is constitutional gridlock and political instability.