Stem the uncertainty
IT took just minutes after the Supreme Court’s Tuesday order in the rental power case for the Karachi Stock Exchange to plummet several hundred points. By the end of the day, Rs130bn of market capitalisation had been wiped out. The rapid reaction clearly didn’t follow a technical examination of the language of the order or an analysis of the probability that Dr Qadri’s pressure would lead to the government’s fall. What it reflected was the real danger of yesterday’s events: the uncertainty into which they have plunged Pakistan. And that uncertainty — if it isn’t quickly resolved by the political parties working together to come up with a viable response to the challenge they’ve been presented with — can become an opportunity for those looking to delay a democratic transition.
At this point there is little question that such an agenda exists. Take a couple of Dr Qadri’s demands. On Wednesday he listed all the documentation about each election candidate that he demands should be evaluated before they can contest polls. Since this will take a long time, he argues, assemblies should be dissolved ahead of schedule, which would allow three months rather than two for election preparation. But what if every candidate’s utility bills and loan statements and tax returns for the last several years cannot be procured and examined in 90 days? Another example: he has demanded that the caretaker prime minister and provincial members of the Election Commission not be selected by the ruling party and the opposition. That would require not just a new formula, but a constitutional amendment. What if one cannot be passed in time? More significant than the specifics of Dr Qadri’s shifting demands, then, is the danger that the ground is being prepared for an extended interim set-up.
Which leaves a lot riding on what the major political parties — and the SC — do next. Yesterday the SC declared it will work without considering events outside its walls. In a country where the apex court’s decisions have significantly impacted politics, whether by design or because other players try to use it to further various agendas, this is a deeply irresponsible point of view, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s panic. As for the politicians, the opposition has proposed an eminently logical solution: the ruling party should announce an election date and begin negotiations with them on a caretaker set-up. This suggests a way forward without bending to any unconstitutional demands. Rather than simply making vague speeches about the importance of upholding democracy, the ruling party would do well to act on this, and soon.