Enough with the hysteria

The lead story out of Pakistan today is that the MQM has left the PPP-led coalition in the National Assembly. One has to wonder why a party trying to negotiate with others makes such a splash in the headlines. After all, is this not natural in politics across the world? Coalition governments have existed in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, even next door in India, to name a few.

The concept of a coalition government allows differing parties to come together and form consensus-based policy – an absolute must in Pakistani legislation. With such a system, change is inevitable as members come and go while the overall determination to best govern the country remains the same. That is precisely what we have in Pakistan today.

The MQM has changed its seating in the National Assembly hall. They will now be sitting a few rows back (and a quite a few more to the right). They are not, however, rearranging the seats on the Titanic. The Pakistani government is not going to collapse, and the country will not disappear into thin air. As Pakistan’s emerging democracy evolves into a stronger version of itself, it will go through similar growing pains.

We have never done this before – we have never come so close to an elected government finishing out its term. That being said, we will certainly have debates on never before held topics, such as our governing process and necessary adjustments thereof.

On another note, while the MQM is entitled to its right to leave the PPP-led coalition, one wonders if this is the politically smart move. The MQM and the main opposition party, PML-N, have a tense relationship, to put it mildly. Chairman Altaf Hussain lashed out at the PML-N Chairman Nawaz Sharif in what appears to be a “tit-for-tat response.”

The MQM should ask itself if the frustration it feels under the PPP coalition truly warrants leaving for opposition benches (and that too, with an unlikely friend in the PML-N).

Only time will tell if the MQM’s strategy pays off – or if this move proves to be a blunder that effectively sidelines the party from greater participation in government.
In the meantime, it is imperative that Pakistan’s democratic institutions be given the support they deserve, and allowed to continue doing their duties. We really should stop the hysterics!

Altaf Bhai Should Invite Nick Clegg for Tea

According to news reports that are now being released, MQM has reached a decision to sit on the opposition benches. I think Altaf Hussain may want to invite Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats (UK), over for tea. By choosing to sit on opposition benches, MQM is making the same mistake that the Liberal Democrats did in the UK – sacrificing a potential consensus relationship for a better seat at a worse table.

Nick CleggFollowing the last UK elections, Labour – the largest liberal party – did not have enough seats to form a government. A scramble ensued as Labour and the Conservatives tried to woo smaller parties to be the first able to form a government. At the end of the day, a strange marriage was agreed to between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who are more to the left even of Labour.

The strategy from the point of view of the Liberal Democrats is that they were tired of being a small party and wanted a better seat at the table of government. By playing ‘King Maker’ to the Conservative party, they were able to get that said and Nick Clegg found himself the new Deputy PM.

That was in May.

Now the Liberal Democrats find themselves dreading next week’s by elections in the UK. Despite the party’s orientation towards populism, they are a critical part of a government that has hiked tuition fees for thousands of students despite a pre-election pledge to vote against any fee increases. Polls now suggest support for the party has been halved as a result of their throwing in with the Conservatives.

As Andrew Russell, a lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester told Bloomberg News, “They are now facing up to the fact that this is a Conservative government with some Liberal Democrat ministers.”

Altaf HussainAny coalition government is going to support policies that clash with MQM’s priorities. Under the leadership of the PPP, the government has taken on some fairly unpopular policies such as the petrol hike that the MQM refers to. But one must ask two questions: One, is it likely that such austerity measures would not exist under a government led by another party and Two, is there another party large enough to lead a coalition that would support policies more closely aligned with the stated principles of MQM?

In short, MQM should be asking itself not whether it is frustrated with some policies under the present coalition, but whether it thinks any other government is going to be better for its goals. Sitting on opposition benches and making speeches about how awful the government is is an easy task. Stop in any tea stall or drawing room and you’ll find plenty of would-be backbenchers.

There’s a lot of good points in the guiding principles of MQM. What a shame it will be to see those principles and their spokesmen sidelined from government discussions by their own choice when they could continue to have a seat at the table of a more closely aligned government and influencing the direction of government in a positive way.