Coalition Partner?

Sixteen years after taking oath as the Prime Minister of Paki­stan, Yousaf Raza Gilani stood on the podium taking another oath – this time as the Chairman of the Senate. What is more remarkable is the fact that both times, he secured the top posi­tion unopposed.

A surprising feat in itself, once we consider Pakistan’s fractured politics, but to do it twice, more than a decade and a half apart, is one for the history books. How has the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) managed to engineer both elections in such a way perhaps only Asif Ali Zardari can answer. However, a more pertinent ques­tion is, to what end? Nominally the PPP is an ally to the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). It is a key coalition partner, with­out whom a government could not be formed, it leads the Sindh As­sembly while PML-N leads Punjab, and the current unopposed elec­tion of Mr. Gilani indicates that both parties have a good working relationship on and off the floor.

Yet, PPP continues to dither on joining the federal Cabinet, choos­ing to remain away from positions of power and responsibility. It pe­riodically opposes the PML-N in the parliament and maintains a sep­arate electoral identity compared to the PDM banner which these parties once united under. To most observers, it seems the PPP is do­ing what it does best under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, maxi­mizing its influence, without putting itself directly in the line if fire – be it from the opposition or the electorate. By refusing to be part of the Cabinet, the PPP can easily criticize the actions of its own coali­tion partner, despite being involved in the decision-making process that goes on behind the scenes. Having top positions in the Senate al­lows it to do the same, lead debates, form committees, and even block legislation, all without truly being part of the new government.

Suave as it is, PPP’s strategy is politically motivated, and cognizant of reputation going into the next election, rather than a need to serve the people to the best of its ability. If the PPP is a coalition partner, it should act like one, and join the PML-N government in leading the country through a myriad of crises. It cannot have the best of both worlds and the best of both benches.

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