Storm in a tea-cup or cynical maneuvering?

Different conjectures were aired when the JUI-F got rid of its deputy speaker and three other legislative assembly members for taking bribes in the recent election for the vacant senate seats from NWFP; they had been found guilty for selling their votes.  The expelled belonged to the JUI (F) component of the MMA alliance ruling NWFP. Incidentally, they belonged to the indirectly elected category of members, except one. After the seats fell vacant, the Chief Minister requisitioned a session of the assembly to elect replacements; the Governor, as the constitutional head, delayed his approval for summoning the assembly. In the meantime the de-seated members approached the High Court seeking interim relief by preventing re-election. Surely there were more than 4 guilty MMA legislators then why no action was taken against the rest? If the others were removed it would result in 20 bye elections; an impossible task for a coalition government.

Late on Sunday night (2nd April), the Governor gave his assent. On the morning of the 3rd, the assembly hurriedly elected three new members; some questioned the methods used.  A PPPP legislator wanted to discuss the delaying role of the Governor in summoning the assembly but withdrew on the request of the speaker who hinted that it will �muddy the waters.�

The recent episode has left a bad taste and has shown that the religious rights morals were those of the other political parties; the PPPP and the ANP party machines were pilloried for their �corruption� in the past. If you recollect in the articulation of issues by media before the last election, corruption was used as the stick with which the secular parties were beaten blue by the state; voters were led to believe that it was their responsibility to condemn such a negative attitude and many voted for the MMA, at least in the NWFP. In the current senate election, 23 MMA legislators took money to cast their votes against their respective party candidates; this included the JUI (F) and the JI. Similar allegations are under investigation in the PPPP relating to the defeat of their candidate Farhatullah Babar.

Before the elections, Chaudry Shujat Hussain of the PML (Q) made an offer to the MMA, in which he proposed an arrangement by which the MMA would win 4 seats while the PML (Q) will get 3. This offer was rejected by the MMA, who felt sure to win more than 4 seats. Once the contest began, money and bribery paraded on a grand scale. Each of the 23 legislators reportedly sold their multiple choice vote to the highest bidder. Some even formed co-operatives to sell votes through a middle man! The price for a single first choice ballot was between Rs. 7.5 to Rs. 10 million; the second choice votes were on a descending rate. It required 7 first votes to become a senator. On an average the winning candidate paid Rs.70 � 80 million to win. Who said that the poor or the capable have a place in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?

We have thrashed the holy cow of good governance blue with sermons by all and yet our conduct as representative of the people shows how low we have fallen in moral rectitude. Mark Twain rightly concluded that, Public office is private graft. It may be rightly asked why we spend millions in capacity building for good governance and access to justice, when the very people who are supposed to be the guardian of public interest, are so thoroughly smeared with improper conduct?

I wish this sordid display of immoral conduct had ended here. No, it did not. The reason the Governor did not summon the assembly was equally cynical. Some say that it was a move to force a vote in the assembly after getting a stay order from the High Court. If that was the intention then why did the Governor sign the requisition late at night? Secondly, if the federal government wanted an end to the MMA administration in NWFP, it would have needed all the supporting legislators in Peshawar, where the no confidence move could be fine tuned. Both Amir Mukam, the PML (Q) head in NWFP, and leader of the opposition in the assembly Shahzada Gustasap were away. This leads to two evident conclusions.

First, that the federal government did not want to end the MMA government because there is behind the scene cooperation; I wonder why it should be behind the scene? I would have thought that if they were co-operating it will presumably be for the benefit of the people. Second it is incorrect to suggest that the delay in requisitioning the assembly was due to a technical hitch in communication between the Governor and the Chief Minister. This is just an excuse. Government does not work that way. It is learnt that a last minute deal was stuck between the federal government and the MMA. The deal was that the Governor would sign the requisition order, if the MMA at the federal level would support the election of a PML (Q) candidate for the deputy speaker’s job in the senate in the forthcoming election.

This power play between the two governments also hinted to the distinct possibility of early general elections, which are to be held in October 2006. The argument is that if the assemblies are being dissolved before the elections, which are only 5 months away, then why have a care – taker government for 90 days until August 2006, what arrangements will there be for the intervening 60 days?

Another factor likely to have allowed the continuation of the provincial assembly of NWFP is the probability of a future alliance between the PML (Q) and the JUI (F) in the next general elections; removal of a sitting JUI (F) led government could de-rail the behind the scene arrangements and damage the last minute maneuvering of JUI (F) by relying on state largesse.

Whatever the other implication emerging out of the recent senate elections, it is quite evident that at least 23 MMA legislators indicated by their action that this is their last chance of making money before the process of the next election gets under way; it is as if someone was abandoning a burning house and de-camping with valuables. With an election looming in the background, abuse of the financial and planning discipline will increase with emphasis on providing jobs to win future votes. Such an attitude does not augur well for NWFP or Pakistani politics. The departments must not allow this to happen. (