Reprieve for Gilani govt, but early polls inevitable
AFP ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN’S government has won temporary respite in its bid to cling onto office but early polls are inevitable as the army and judiciary plot to bring down the unpopular president, analysts say.
The power struggle between Asif Ali Zardari’s government on the one hand and the courts and military on the other is by any standards toxic — even in a nuclear-armed country as perennially on the brink of crisis as Pakistan.
No elected government in the history of the country has survived a full term in office and almost from inception the daggers have been drawn for the Pakistan People’s Party administration, led by the most unlikely of presidents.
Yet Zardari has survived nearly four years through nous and cunning. Polls in 2012 may satisfy an army desperate to see the back of Zardari but his prime minister has already become the longest-serving civilian premier in Pakistan.
“2012 is election year,” says political analyst and author Imtiaz Gul, regardless of whether Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani survives contempt proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court.
Millions of voters are fed up with crippling energy cuts, inflation and unemployment, and exhausted by the unpopular US alliance that is blamed for much of the Taliban and Al Qaedalinked violence sweeping the country.
“All political parties want early elections,” said Gul.
“There is economic crisis and social instability and the government will therefore see early elections as the only way out.” The Supreme Court judges demanding that Zardari be reinvestigated for graft in Switzerland could ultimately decide to convict Gilani of contempt, sentence him to jail and disqualify him — as well as Zardari — from office.
The president is also under pressure from a judicial investigation into a secretive memo seeking to overhaul the military leadership after the army was humiliated by a covert American operation on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden.
But the court’s decision to adjourn until February 1 has bought the government at least two weeks’ reprieve after Gilani was summoned to face contempt charges on Thursday.
Opinion is divided on whether the Supreme Court was victorious in forcing the government to accept its authority or whether the prime minister emerged triumphant by standing his ground and refusing to apologise.
Gilani faced down a demand to ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by insisting that the president has full immunity, but the prime minister has gone out of his way to show deference to the courts.
“We respect the judiciary and their mandate and we will respect whatever courts decide in this regard,” Gilani told reporters on Friday.
“The crisis has been averted — for now,” said Pakistan’s well-regarded English broadsheet Dawn.