Friday, April 29, 2016

In getting maximum political mileage out of the Panama leaks - Has PTI missed another chance?




Lahore - Political observers are watching the current political scene with great interest as the opposition parties are competing with each other to get maximum political mileage out of the Panama leaks. 

While the outcome is not clear as yet but many believe that PTI has missed yet another chance to capitalise on this issue by making a major political blunder. It has launched a general campaign against corruption in Sindh province, diverting focus from the main issue involving prime minister’s family.

The PTI decision has also provided a justification to the government to generalise the issue of Panama leaks through the Terms of Reference (ToRs) formulated for the proposed judicial commission.

Many believe that PTI leadership could not benefit from its previous political campaign on rigging way back in 2014 when it had the opportunity to force the government to bring about electoral reforms to purge the political system of the deep-rooted practice of electoral rigging.

By clinging onto its rigid stance on prime minister’s resignation, the PTI missed a fair chance of forcing the government to agree on a strict legislation to prevent rigging in future elections. This issue is still pending with a parliamentary committee which is yet to evolve consensus on a new set of rules to empower the Election Commission of Pakistan. 

“Voters in Pakistan have never voted for parties who have been campaigning against corruption. Majority of people here vote for candidates who resolve their issues at Thana and Kachehri levels, provide jobs to their children and carry out development work,” Hasan Askari Rizvi remarked when asked to comment on PTI’s corruption campaign. “While the issue of corruption may be used for general mobilisation, but at the same time, political parties need to raise real issues of the people to get their support in elections. In his view, the PTI should have agitated the issue of farmers’ plight because they are not getting the right price of their wheat production with harvesting season at the peak. 

Political analyst Sohail Warriach thinks that if the PTI succeeds in forcing the PML-N to hold early elections, it will be the major beneficiary of the Panama leaks episode. “But it is also true that any political government’s fall also benefits the non-political forces,” he observed. “In a scenario wherein non-political forces take over power from the elected government as a result of opposition’s agitation, the PTI may also be the beneficiary afterwards,” he added.

Mr Warriach saw little chance of the PPP getting any political advantage at this stage because of the corruption charges against its leadership. 

Though the government has announced a judicial commission to probe the allegations, it seems to have tricked the opposition by extending the sphere of inquiry to all politicians. This has made the opposition parties unnerved because some of their key members also have their offshore companies. Resultantly, the divided opposition has got united on one point agenda to force the government to accept the ToRs of their choice.

Hassan Askari Rizvi, a noted analyst, however thinks that PPP was still indecisive whether to side with the PTI or to stand with the government notwithstanding its Punjab leaders’ anti-government statements. They may have their own political compulsions to revive the party in Punjab by forcing the PM to resign, he said. 

“But as far as Mr Zardari is concerned, he has not given up his deal options with the government. He may take any decision any time during the agitation,” he opined.

To add to what Mr Rizvi believes, there is another conspiracy theory circulating in the political circles. It is about dragging the matter far too long till it fizzles out like many previous issues. The conjecture is that PPP leaders along with rest of the Opposition will continue to raise this issue in the media till consensus is achieved on the ToRs. The proposed judicial commission will then prolong the investigations and finally come up with recommendations with no clear directions to the government. People have already digested the outcomes of many previous inquiry commissions, the most recent being the commissions on memo gate and Abbottabad.

As the things stand at the moment, the government seems disinclined to changing the ToRs as per demands of the opposition parties. But Ishaq Dar’s recent statement shows that government may show some flexibility on it. It is also yet to be seen if the Chief Justice of Pakistan accepts government’s request to form a judicial commission whose jurisdiction to investigate is also questionable. Pakistan has not signed any agreement with the tax heaven countries to seek any information from them regarding the offshore companies. A recent briefing to Senate Standing Committee by Deputy Governor of State Bank should also be an eye opener. He has quoted local laws which allow individuals from Pakistan to take considerable amount of money out of the country with prior permission of the State Bank.

Besides, Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992 applies no restrictions on Pakistanis to shift their money to other countries.


Published in The Nation newspaper on 29-Apr-2016

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