Democratic Show of Strength
By Amir Wasim, Dawn, February 28, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Feb 27: Three major parties — PPP, PML-N and ANP — brought together on Wednesday a total of 171 members-elect at a “show of strength” luncheon meeting to prove their majority in the National Assembly and called upon the government to convene the assembly session immediately.
The “grand jamboree” of newly-elected MNAs at a five-star hotel, at a stone’s throw from the Aiwan-i-Sadr, was described by many participants as the biggest anti-Musharraf show in Islamabad in recent years.
A couple of newly-elected legislators told Dawn the elections were a vote of no-confidence against the president and his policies.
The luncheon, hosted by PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, attracted not only the newly-elected members of the three main parties, but also a host of political workers and diplomats.
“We are not prepared to wait for a single more day for the assembly to be convened,” PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said, urging President Pervez Musharraf to call the assembly session as soon as the Election Commission announced official results.
“They must not wait a single moment to call the session. We are in a simple majority and we have showed it. We cannot wait for any Jamali or ISI or NAB for gathering support for formation of a government,” Mr Sharif said, alluding to the situation after the 2002 elections when the assembly was convened after more than one month. In the meantime, the establishment put together a one-vote majority for the PML-Q to form the government.
Only Mr Sharif mentioned the name of Pervez Musharraf in his speech, while Asif Zardari and Asfandyar Wali avoided referring to the president.
Mr Sharif said the people of Pakistan had sent a clear message to the president on election day. “It should be amply clear to him (President Musharraf) that the nation has given its verdict against dictatorship. The nation has given its verdict for democracy.
“Our numbers are very close to two-thirds (majority) and we will cross that number,” Mr Sharif added.
The PPP won 87 seats, PML-N 70 and ANP 10 seats in the Feb 18 election for 268 National Assembly seats. Two-thirds of 268 NA seats come to 179. However, after adding seats reserved for women and minorities and winning over some independents, the three-party coalition is expected to get a two-thirds majority in the 342-member house.
Mr Sharif said his party would extend full support to the PPP. “We must see that we have a long-lasting democracy in this country and abandon the role of the army and military in politics forever.”
He praised Benazir Bhutto for signing the Charter of Democracy with him in London in 2006.
Mr Sharif said the Charter of Democracy was the most important document after the 1973 Constitution, and if implemented in letter and spirit, it would change the destiny of the people of Pakistan.
He said by sitting together, the three parties had fulfilled Ms Bhutto’s dream. “We will make sure that we will stay united and defeat dictatorship,” he said.
Mr Zardari said the winning parties should now work together to end supremacy of the establishment. He said it was indeed a historical moment and all those present here had struggled for a common cause. He said the PPP had suffered the most at the hands of the establishment, adding that his party wanted to change the system.
ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan said that people had paid a heavy price for democracy. “We will have to ensure that we reach the goal for which our forefathers made sacrifices.”
Without elaborating, he said that he had told Nawaz Sharif in 1997 and he would repeat the same now that there was very little difference between “expediency and shamelessness”.
Although the three parties have announced forming coalition governments at the centre and in the provinces, there are still some contentious issues which need to be resolved: restoration of the pre-Nov 3 judiciary, the PML-N’s decision of not joining the cabinet and the selection of a suitable candidate for premiership.
Later, top leaders of the three parties held formal talks on the future set-up. Constitutional expert Justice (retd) Fakharuddin G. Ibrahim briefed the heads of the three parties on options to resolve the judicial crisis.