Friday, 22 February 2013

Enter the caretakers

By M Faheem Wali

Of late the entire nation has been held captive in the most interesting political notion that is about the appointment of the forthcoming caretaker prime minister for the purpose of running the day to day affairs of the government during the interim period of 90 days or for that matter 60 days( if the assembly completes its tenure),as the case may be, till an elected government takes the reigns of power for the next five years after one hopes is a free, fair and impartial elections.



Mir Balkh Sher Mazari was briefly appointed caretaker PM by Ghulam Ishaq Khan

As per constitution of Pakistan the relevant article as amended up to date is article 224 which deals with the procedure for appointment of care taker prime minister wherein the president has to appoint a caretaker prime minister in consultation with the outgoing prime minister and outgoing leader of the opposition in the national assembly but such consultation has been specifically mentioned to be binding on the President, meaning thereby that the word consultation, hardly leaves a choice for the President to act independently on his own motion. The article further provides that after his appointment the care taker prime minister would then select the members of his cabinet upon his own choice, independently.

However, the issue which has so far skipped the attention of the media pundits relates to the appointment of the caretaker chief minister. With the passage of the 18th amendment the provincial Chief Ministers have far more power then they did prior to 2010.
Our constitution, in the same article, has provided for the procedure of the appointment of the caretaker chief minister wherein the word President has been replaced with that of the Governor of the province concerned. Meaning thereby, the caretaker chief minister would be appointed by the Governor concerned in consultation with the outgoing chief minister and leader of the opposition in the respective Provincial Assembly.

Considering the previous active roles played by different caretaker chief ministers across the country in various provinces by some of the chief ministers at certain times is also worth assessment. In 1990 Mian Nawaz Sharif was made chief minister Punjab in run up to the most controversial elections in the history of the country, he by using the entire state resources manipulated developmental works in such a way that IJI, his electoral alliance, won in such a huge majority that not only made him victorious but landed with such a thumping majority to even dethrone the then caretaker Prime minister from becoming an actual one. During the same era, Jam Sadiq Ali was his counterpart at Sindh, his modus operandi was a bit different from Mian Nawaz Sharif. He not only used developmental funds at will but in the process used a carrot and stick policy targeting the PPP in Sindh, leaving it so incapacitated that it would not be able to make a provincial government. His successor caretaker in 1996,the Mir Mumtaz Bhutto was no exception, both of them were particularly brought in to make dents in the then all powerful PPP, headed by Benazir Bhutto. Another one that comes to mind was General Fazle Haq who ensured to make his not so popular electoral alliance as the single largest party in 88 elections in the erstwhile NWFP.

Succinctly stated glossary of events leads us to an undeniable conclusion that the role of chief ministers in caretaker setups is equally important as that of the prime minister in affecting rather inadvertently the outcome of the elections if not directly, therefore, their selection warrants to be done with due caution and care.
At present we come across an interesting situation especially in the province of Punjab as to whom would be selected by the dynamic Shahbaz sharif and resilient Raja Riaz as head of care taker setup in their province. By all standards, for Shahbaz Sharif the actual test of converting rhetoric into reality would be judged by independent analysts in how far he succeeds in bringing a person of repute, stature, character and above all independent l person as a caretaker Chief minister. Coupled with the fact that in doing so, both the constitutional consultees has to take into consideration the likely backlash from the cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and his party.

The situation in other Provinces is not very dissimilar, at present except in the case of Balochistan where after the imposition of Governor rule there is no leader of the opposition or Chief Minister to propose anyone to conduct the elections. In Sindh, there is another challenge where the opposition is tiny and any recommendations need to accommodate the powerful MQM . The dynamic in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is also challenging where the JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rehman party holds the post of leader of opposition under former Chief Minister Akram Durrani. The party appears to be building up a good deal of momentum in electioneering and the leader of the opposition is likely to give a tough time to the young chief minister.
The solution is obvious, the political party’s should strive to get a caretaker chief minister who by all means is free from all kinds of political prejudices, apolitical biases ,a performer in his or her own right so that nobody could easily find faults with. Unfortunately whether this actually happens, only time will tell.
-Writer Faheem Wali is an advocate and tweets with the handle @faheemwali