The hype that preceded the formation of the coalition between the PPP and the PML-N after the February election was euphoric. Sceptics' reservations on an acrimonious past between the two parties notwithstanding, optimists believed that, given the long period of incarceration and exile the two parties had suffered, the coalition partners had learned their lesson. This was especially so when they included ANP and the MQM, both moderate and progressive parties with support in the smaller provinces, and JUI of Fazlur Rahman, a religious party. Briefly, there was optimism over the five party alliances becoming the retaining wall of democracy in the country. Four months down the road, however, the coalition is clinging to the wreckage. The other three have issues too, but the PPP and the PML N, major partners in the ruling alliance, have fundamental differences. The fanfare with which they had signed the Murree (or Bhurban) Declaration was heard all over the world. The two parties committed that they would reinstate the judges removed illegally by Musharraf last Autumn, through a resolution in the parliament as soon as the government took over. But two deadlines to do so (April 30 and May 12) passed without the reinstatement of the judges. The PM declared in his opening speech in the parliament before the confidence vote that they should be released from house arrest, which was done. But no resolution was passed to reinstate them. Instead the PPP began to issue statements on the need for a constitutional reform and announced that they were working on a constitutional package (bill) for the parliament. This package (still not on the table) turned out to be a 62-point mechanism that, in a nutshell, reduced the powers of the president but much more so of the chief justice. Technically still under the consideration of the coalition partners, the package has already been rejected by the PML-N. Worryingly, the package in effect gives indemnity, critical for Musharraf, to the unconstitutional actions of the former COAS taken on November 3, 2007 and after. Earlier, his coup of October 12, 1999 and the subsequent actions had been condoned by the parliament through the 17th amendment supported by the MMA led by Fazlur Rahman in 2002. But Musharraf's imposition of Emergency as the COAS on November 3, 2007 remained a dodgy issue as the Supreme Court judges had declared it illegal before they were all arrested. He then had their hand picked replacements condone his actions, but the issue was never brought before the parliament, something that the constitution demands. In fact the impression that the proposed constitutional package bails Musharraf out persists. Ms Benazir Bhutto had during her life time gone to the residence of CJ Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry and declared unequivocally her support for him and his reinstatement. But Mr Asif Ali Zardari has since declared that they did not win the election on the judges' issue but rather on roti, kapra aur makan (food, clothing and shelter for every one). In the meanwhile, as the PPP led coalition government took over in Islamabad, in Lahore the PML-N followed suit. They formed the provincial government in coalition with the PPP. In the absence of a clear majority, the coalition was a compulsion for both the parties. But the pressure of public opinion and their inability to convince their partners to pass a resolution in the National Assembly reinstating the judges forced the PML-N to resign from their federal cabinet positions, staying nevertheless in the coalition. Saving the coalition is now a clich both sides often use. As for the judges, they have not been restored to date. The lawyers' Long March in the middle of June, supported by the PML-N, and APDM seems to have been a failure in retrospect, although it did not seem so on the night between June 13 and 14 when it concluded in front of the parliament in Islamabad. The PML-N's stand on the judges' issue and impeachment of the president is one of total public commitment and, indeed, they owe much of their popularity to it. Risking serious internal dissentions, the PPP has gone back on their commitment to reinstate the judges through an assembly resolution. Nor are they in a hurry to impeach the president. Still clinging to the wreckage, the two parties are bickering in public but not parting. This takes place when inflation is sky rocketing and an economic collapse is looming large. In such circumstances, as our history shows, the army steps in. However, the incumbent president has soiled the image of the army with both hands for eight long years. To retrieve the old image of respect, the new COAS has rightly made the strategic choice of keeping the army out of politics. The army might not intervene this time and rather regain its lost reputation in the eyes of the people of Pakistan, the country it exists to defend. Ruling out martial law, let us pray therefore that we are heading for a mid-term election, the best thing that can happen to us today. The writer is a former inspector general of police