Just hours remain before Pakistan’s legislature decides on a new President, and while it is virtually a foregone conclusion that the winner will be the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party candidate Asif Ali Zardari, the already serious concerns about his ability to maintain a majority in parliament are being further threatened today as several MPs from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have threatened to quit the coalition.
At issue is the ceasefire announced by the Pakistani government last weekend in honor of Ramadan. Announced, yet the military has not halted attacks within the restive Swat Valley and reports from the region have emerged almost daily of strikes in the region, some killing women and children. The leader of FATA’s MPs is quoted as saying “We are so disappointed with this government that we will not support Asif Zardari. We might quit the coalition if the government doesn’t review its habit of lying”.
This is the second serious charge against Zardari of going back on a promise to his coalition partners in as many weeks. On Monday August 25 the PPP lost its largest coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistani Muslim League-N, after Zardari reneged on a signed agreement to restore 60 judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf. Zardari’s explanation for the incident was that agreements with the PML-N were not “holy like the Qur’an”. Neither, it would seem, was the ceasefire.
But if soon-to-be-President Zardari does wind up losing any or all of the 20 FATA parliamentarians, it will put further strain on his already narrow majority. With internal discontent emerging in the PPP, and Zardari’s near legendary history of corruption allegations which have earned him the nickname “Mr. 10 Percent” harming confidence in his ability to manage an already shaky economy, he must also contend with the perception that he is “Washington’s man” as anti-American sentiment soars in the wake of this week’s US ground assault in South Waziristan. Asif Ali Zardari may soon have his presidency, but how long he can keep it is another matter entirely.