“The king is dead,” reads the headline in Sindh Today, as Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation.
The possibility of impeachment, which requires two-thirds votes of the two chambers of parliament, seemed too good to be true, and the possibility that Musharraf would resign seemed even more too good to be true. However, it was clear that his support was crumbling fast. The party that had been the closest thing he ever had to a support base outside of the army, the PML-Q, had deserted him. Whatever aura of political support he might have enjoyed vanished when the parliament of Sindh province voted unanimously,
asking President Musharraf to take vote of confidence from the Parliament including the provincial assembly that is also part of the presidential Electoral College or resign. (The Nation, nation.com.pk)
It was never clear (to me) what strategy Musharraf had for remaining in power. But I certainly was not ready to count him out. The two main ‘democratic’ parties (or as close to democratic as the country has among major parties) had combined for a large majority in the recent national parliamentary elections, and had formed a coalition together. And while the concept of ‘legitimacy’ is far too squishy to be of much use, whatever it may mean operationally, clearly Musharraf lacked it.1 That much was clear when he summarily fired the Supreme Court justices just as they were poised to uphold their own jobs by declaring unconstitutional his reelection by the (fraudulently elected) past parliaments (that comprise the electoral college). Having formally shed his military uniform, he could no longer count on army backing. And the presence of a president chosen by the pre-transition parliament in what is otherwise a parliamentary democracy was always going to be anomaly. (In fact, the ruling parties had just announced a series of steps to strip the presidency of the powers it had as potential checks on the parliament and cabinet. These, presumably will go ahead before a new president is installed.)
Not to put a damper on the justified jubilation, but the resignation was almost surely pushed as much by the army as by the parliament–or the people of Pakistan who do indeed deserve much credit for brave resistance in recent months.2 That is, the ability of Musharraf to serve out his fixed term as president despite losing political support always would have depended on the army’s willingness to uphold transitional accords negotiated with the political parties. Ultimately, that would rest on the credibility of a coup if the parties pushed too hard. Evidently, in retrospect, a coup was not credible and the parties–even alleged allies–were ready to push. A trial would have sullied the army, too, given that it was always Musharraf’s only real basis of support. The officer corps no doubt is also now saying “good riddance.” While it remains unclear whether there is an exile deal in place, one has to be skeptical that the dictator will be brought to justice.
- An editorial in The News on the occasion of Pakistan’s recent Independence Day celebrations sums all this up well. [↩]
- After writing this latter point, I came across Manan Ahmed’s excellent post, in which he says, “Pakistan just had a slow-burning, people-powered, secular revolution and they forced a sitting dictator – who had the complete confidence and support of the only superpower in the world – out. Peacefully.” Well put. [↩]