Last act of the drama.
* Benazir Bhutto would play a key role despite her "wait and see policy".
* The last act of the drama has begun. The end would be like a Shakespearian tragedy.
Tussle between the President and the Prime Minister is deepening. Two crucial questions are agitating the minds of the people. Is Nawaz Sharif's time up and when the 8th Amendment will go? Let us try to find out the answers of these two questions. More important is the question when this whole drama will end.
It is strongly felt that Nawaz Sharif will have to step down. There were hectic efforts to arrive at a rapprochement between the President and the Prime Minister. President lobby seemed to be indifferent and chances of any compromise are remote. Six ministers from the cabinet have already resigned. Chaudhry Nisar Ali and Mian Shahbaz Sharif were working hard to find out ways and means to bridge the gulf between the two. Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan has summoned a meeting of All Parties Conference on April 7 and 8 what appears to be APC against Nawaz Sharif Government.
All the three alliances, i.e. People's Democratic Alliance (PDA), Islami Jamhoori Mahaz (IJM) and NDA will attend the All Parties Conference to reach understanding on the formation of a government of national consensus. The effort is to pressurise the government so that the President may have no other option but either to dissolve the assembly or ask Nawaz Sharif to take a fresh vote of confidence.
But the main opposition alliance i.e. PDA and NDA, are not in favour of in-house change. They want a government of national consensus which will hold the general elections after fresh census. In another development, the PPP has also been divided within President and Prime Minister groups with Sardar Farooq Leghari supporting Ishaq Khan while Yahya Bakhtiar and Iftikhar Hussain Gillani opposing the President.
As far as the Eighth Amendment is concerned the government will have to present a fresh one - the thirteenth in this case - for which a draft is already being prepared by a group of experts. An amendment to the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly which has a total strength of 217 members. From there, a bill goes to the Senate, where it again requires a two-thirds majority in a house of 87 members before it can be passed.
Close on the heel presidential election campaign is going on which is likely to prove even more tricky because the electoral college comprises the national as well as the four provincial assemblies. The complex voting formula worked out in the constitution is such that the Balochistan Assembly, with a total of 43 members, has equal weightage to the Punjab Assembly, which has a strength of 240 members. In many ways, the attempt to undo the Eighth Amendment is a more straightforward exercise. However, the path to its achievement is not exactly going to be an easy one for either of the two opposing sides.
The present government is, however, pretty experienced when it comes to amending the constitution. The controversial Twelfth Amendment bill introduced by it some time back was passed by the National Assembly in the record time of less than one hour. But those were very different times, when the ruling alliance was intact and the government also enjoyed the backing of several religious parties. Most important of all, the president was also a supporter of that particular amendment. Now the things are very different.
President Ishaq Khan has already started to pull strings, and if one goes through the list of legislators who have called on him during the past couple of months, it indicates that there is now a clear division in the treasury benches with some voices of dissent even being heard from the opposition benches.
A disinformation campaign is going on against the President. First an orchestrated campaign in the media questioned GIK's choice of General Abdul Waheed as COAS. A pro-Nawaz Sharif columnist blasted GIK for appointing a fellow Pathan. This was accompanied by scathing attacks on both the Eighth Amendment and GIK personally. Editorials in pro-Nawaz papers called on the President to step down, pointing out that since Punjabis and Pathans occupied the country's top political slot, the Presidential office should go to a Sindhi. This sudden concern for Sindhi representation seemed to be a transparent attempt to justify Mr. Sharif's well-known desire to back Ghouse Ali Shah as the Presidential candidate. Meanwhile, Air Marshal (Retd) Asghar Khan is campaigning for his candidature. He insists that instead of re-electing him, GIK should be impeached a demand which some other minor voices also back.
There is also a move that the IJI government should be ousted through a vote of no-confidence. Hamid Nasir Chatta a former cabinet minister announced that he would move a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister. The National Assembly is likely to meet on April 22. Mr. Chatta was confident that he had enough signatures to requisition the session to bring about a no-confidence motion against Nawaz Sharif.
According to reports, PPP co-Chairperson Benazir Bhutto herself was not in favour of siding with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the power politics between the two members of the troika. Benazir on the issue of restoration of the 73 Constitution and repeal of the Eighth Amendment remained consistent. She considered this piece of legislation "as a travesty of justice and law - a symbol of the assault on the freedom and democracy". Benazir has adopted a wait-and-see policy. She has already postponed her visit to Pakistan. Meanwhile, she has also resigned from the chairperson post of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Her initial interest is in getting all the references against her husband and other partly leaders dropped. Mr. Nawaz Sharif is reported to have given consent to Benazir's demands for appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner through mutual agreement and hold general elections by 1994 instead of the end of 1995.
Circles close to her claimed that American lobby wanted Benazir Bhutto to support Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the issue of Eighth Amendment. But the President's loyalists were reported to have threatened. Benazir Bhutto to bring back Mir Murtaza Bhutto home and activate all cases against him if she sided with the Prime Minister in the current political situation. Besides this, the majority of PDA MNAs and the PPP stalwarts strongly opposed the idea of siding with the Prime Minister.
The President will have the support of Pakistan Muslim League having 15 odd members in house. The religious parties will also side with GIK ultimately so also Awami National Party of Wali Khan. In Sindh, the three MNAs from the MQM (H) are likely to vote against Nawaz Sharif's government. And even if the other MQM group wins the remaining vacant seats in the forthcoming elections they too are expected to side with the President.
In such a situation, much will depend on the position adopted by Benazir Bhutto and her People's Democratic Alliance (PDA). Starting with a strength of 45 members in a House of 217, the PDA seems to have lost about four supporters to the government in the course of two years. However, the PDA claims to have won the support of an equal number of IJI members to compensate for the loss. At present, the PDA appears to be in the best possible position and may be able to turn the tables in whichever direction it chooses. There is little doubt about the fact that if the PDA sides with the government, the bill to pass the Thirteenth Amendment will enjoy smooth sailing in the National Assembly. If it chooses to opt for the president, however, the government's move would fall flat.
President is in a comfortable position as he has the support of the army which carries more weight than anything else. Moreover, the Senate is regarded the president's domain with most of its members directly or indirectly behind the incumbent. The electoral college for the presidential election comprises the two houses of parliament, whose members have one vote each, and the four provincial assemblies, where votes are counted in a manner so as to give all the four assemblies equal weightage.
At present, the Balochistan assembly is a divided house and open to horse-trading. The situation in the NWFP Assembly is also not very different with serious divisions on various issues. The major power blocs in the NWFP are the two PML factions, the ANP, the PDA and the Jamaat-e-Islami. In Sindh, the PDA appears to be the only party with a solid vote bank that is likely to go in one direction. To some extent, the same can be said for the MQM (Haqiqi) as well, whose members will vote en bloc. The overwhelming majority of the remaining MPAs are independents, most of whom can be counted among the president's supporters. While countdown has started and the last act of the drama has to be enacted. The drop scene will be something like a Shakespearian tragedy in which all the key actors are seen dead.