Amit Ranjan is a Research Scholar in South Asian Studies division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at amitranjan.jnu[at]gmail.com.
Pakistan’s supreme court on Tuesday disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani because he refused to investigate corruption charges against the president, Asif Ali Zardari. The decision was the outcome of a months long struggle between parliament and the judiciary.
President Zardari is known as “Mr 10 percent” because that is what he used to charge for local investments. He was also involved in blatant corruption during the premiership of his wife, the late Benazir Bhuttoo. By accident or choice, he became the head of the state in 2008 after Bhuttoo’s assassination the previous year.
For all the negative press surrounding corruption charges, the Zardari-Gilani years have also seen a major accomplishment for Pakistani democracy in the eighteenth amendment to the Muslim nation’s constitution which prevents the president from unilaterally disbanding parliament. For a country that has seen four military coups since independence and an extremely powerful executive, it marked a break with the past.
Another military takeover after Gilani’s ouster is unlikely. Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani may be ambitious but the current political environment in Pakistan is not in his favor. The parties are determined to keep the army at bay. Elections are due in Pakistan and no party will like to destroy its prospect of coming to power. Pakistani civil society, which has struggled hard to rid itself of the legacy of President Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, won’t like to see a return to old ways either.
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its allies continue to support President Zardari and favor a democratic solution to the present crisis. Shortly after the supreme court’s ruling was announced, representatives of the coalition met at the president’s house where they expressed their confidence in Zardari’s leadership. They are expected to nominate the incumbent textile minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin to replace the discredited prime minister.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the conservative Muslim League, has also called for a democratic transition. The centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricketer Imran Khan and popular with the country’s middle class, is expected to do so as well.
Pakistanis recognize the shortcomings of the current government but they also recognize the benefits of having a democracy. The majority would rather live under a democratic government, however imperfect, than see a return to military dictatorship.