Monday, December 12, 2011

The Zardari Rumour Mill

Every public wishes to know what is transpiring in the halls of power that run their countries. It should be no surprise, then, that rumours about Zardari's resignation erupted in the wake of his abrupt absence and the government's contradictory press releases.

What is the exact source of these rumours?

Far from originating domestically, the evidence indicates that they originated overseas. On December 6, an article titled "President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan - is he on the way out?" was posted by Josh Rogin on the website of the US magazine, Foreign Policy. The article cites a "former US government official" who claims that Zardari had earlier been incoherent when speaking to President Obama regarding the NATO killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers. The unnamed official further speculates that Zardari may resign on account of his supposed ill-health.

The Foreign Policy article was released relatively quickly after news broke about Zardari's illness. Additionally, the article is repeatedly referenced in other news articles. These points indicate that the Foreign Policy article was one of the main sources of the resignation rumours.

But is there any truth to the rumours?

One can only resort to speculation - however, certain scenarios are more likely than others.

Consider the case where Zardari resigns of his own accord. The argument is that he has been feeling intense pressure ever since he took office and the recent Memogate scandal was the final straw. However, Zardari is no stranger to political pressure. In fact, he almost seems to laugh at it. How else can one explain his visit to his family's France chateau at the height of the 2010 floods? There is also the matter of him losing legal immunity if he gives up the post of President. He, therefore, has little incentive to step down of his own accord.

The other scenario involves Zardari being forced out against his own will. Who is capable of forcing such a resignation? It comes down to either the PPP or the army.

Historically, the PPP establishment has cherished the Bhutto legacy but not Zardari. Adding fuel to the fire, Zardari has defanged long-time PPP members and has instead relied on his personal network to govern. However, despite the fact that they have misgivings about Zardari, the PPP stalwarts are loath to express them in public. For the time being, they seem content waiting for Bilawel Bhutto to come of age, as opposed to ousting Zardari and risk destabilizing the PPP. It is, therefore, unlikely that the party is attempting to remove Zardari.

This leaves the army.

In them, we certainly have a precedent for forced resignations. However, are the necessary conditions present?

When Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif in 1999, the country had experienced a decade of democratic bad governance and nepotism. The PPP and PML-N had taken turns making a mockery of the democratic process and conditions were ripe for the army to step in and make the claim of saving the country from the politicians.

More than a decade later, no one can deny the presence of bad governance and nepotism. The democratic arena is still a circus. However, the current democratic setup has emerged from a very public movement to remove the general in power. This, combined with increased media scrutiny of state affairs, has meant that the public is not yet ready to cede complete civilian power to the military. The military is, no doubt, well aware of this. And so, despite the presence of Memogate, it will continue to publicly support the civilian government.

Zardari will continue to govern while the rumour mill continues to churn.

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