PRESS GALLERY: Politics of the NA and patriots
By Rana Qaisar
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly session was prorogued on Wednesday in the hope that the government and opposition would resolve the constitutional issues hampering the smooth functioning of parliament. The government-opposition talks continue and the joint committee will meet tomorrow to finalize a draft of amendments as envisaged in the Legal Framework Order (LFO) with some ‘modifications’ to be mutually agreed by both sides.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain will head the government-opposition committee. His nomination has dispelled the impression that he had been sidelined after Prime Minister Jamali himself chipped in to directly negotiate with the opposition parties. But the opposition parties have expressed lack of confidence in Ch Shujaat as head of the government-opposition committee (GOC), so Jamali continues to call the shots.
The government is said to have agreed to some modifications in the controversial amendments including Article 58 (2-B), a National Security Council (NSC) and the president’s discretionary powers. Now Article 58 (2-b) will not apply to parliament and only the prime minister and his cabinet will be removed if such a situation arises. The NSC will be an advisory body formed by an act of parliament, for five years.
Similarly, to ensure a balance of power between the president and the prime minister, the opposition has proposed a mechanism being practiced before Nawaz Sharif as prime minister had concentrated all authority with himself, reducing the president to a mere rubber stamp. So, the discretionary powers of the president, envisaged in the LFO, will be balanced with the prime minister having a role to play in decision-making.
However, President Musharraf’s continuing as chief of army staff (COAS) is the only contentious issue which might put a hurdle in any agreement between the government and the opposition. The opposition is not prepared to validate the referendum through which Mr Musharraf had become president. It wants him to shed his army fatigues to become an elected president. Now it’s up to him to decide whether to step into Ayub Khan’s shoes or follow in Ziaul Haq’s footsteps.
Ch Shujaat’s first public criticism of National Alliance (NA) and Patriots was the most talked about issue in the parliament cafeteria. Addressing a gathering in Islamabad on Tuesday night, he accused the two major coalition partners of playing a ‘double game’. He has been saying so privately but his going public this time is startling. His criticism of them when the president is already faced with an “uncivilized” opposition is alarming and suggestive of growing differences among the government’s coalition partners.
He says these coalition partners of the PML-QA are not supporting the government and have many faces to show. What irks him is that the NA and Patriots have taken a ministerial share greater than their size but they have not made any public statement in favour of General Musharraf and the LFO. But the reality is that the Patriots and NA are the major coalition partners and they know how to exploit their strength, without which the PML-QA could not form its government. Prime Minister Jamali too is conscious of this fact as his continuing in office depends on these two groups’ support. This factor is most disturbing for Ch Shujaat, who continues to try to woo the MMA which, he thinks, if becomes a coalition partner, would not be as difficult to handle as is the case with the NA and Patriots.
After the NA session was prorogued, PPP-P’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi and MMA’s Hafiz Hussain Ahmed told journalists that it would be better if Prime Minister Jamali headed the GOC as Ch Shujaat was only a parliamentary leader of PML-QA and in that capacity he could only head a committee of his own party. But they still agreed to attend the Friday meeting of the committee.
But this is what politics is. There are always some people who throw a spanner in other’s works. The government is thought to have nominated Ch Shujaat under a well-planned scheme that in case this time the talks fail, there should be room left for the prime minister to chip in and handle the situation.