Will they? Will they not? They will! When? What will happen if they do? What will happen if they don’t?
During the debate over the Womens Rights Bill, the leadership of the Mutihida Majlis-i-Amal, or MMA, had threatened that they would resign from all their seats if the Bill was passed.
Well, the bill did pass. They have not yet resigned and even as some taunt them for not doing so, reports suggest that there are rifts within the coalition on this issue and also that they will be resigning. Although it is not clear exactly when, how and even from what.
The MMA controls over 50 seats in the National Assembly and leads the ruling coalition in the NWFP and is part of the governing coalition in Balochistan. There is speculation that the coalition is torn with the Jamaat i Islami (JI) and its leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed wanting to force the government’s hand by implementing the resignation threat while the Jamiat i Ulema i Islam (JUI) leader Maulana Fazl ur Rehman is holding out, partly because his party is leading the NWFP Provincial government and partly because he fears that if they resign and early national elections or provisional elections for those seats may be called and his party may loose the seats they now have. What does all of this mean for politics in Pakistan and for democracy?
According to The News (18 November, 2006), Qazi Hussain Ahmed is ready to force the issue and has announced Dec. 7 as the date when then resignations will be handed in:
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) President Qazi Hussain Ahmad on Friday said they had accepted the challenge from President Musharraf to face the liberal forces and decided to resign from parliament on December 7 in the first phase of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œa protest movement against the unconstitutional and un-Islamic stepsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? of the rulers. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe religious alliance is united on the resignations issue and we all will tender our resignations on the first day of the coming assembly session,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? he told, a press conference here. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe have launched a movement against the direct interference of the United States in the internal affairs of Pakistan and President Musharraf, who has been playing in the hands of his foreign masters,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? Qazi said, adding: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œOur movement continue till the removal of the president.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚?
… The MMA chief clarified that there was no division within the alliance on the resignations issue as was being reported. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThere is no division in the MMA while the ruling party itself is facing crisis on the passage of Women Protection Bill (WPB),ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? he said. He said the religious alliance leaders had the capability to take unanimous decisions and differences of opinion could not be termed a division. He said President Musharraf has challenged the Islamic forces and promoting liberals. Elaborating the word ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“liberalÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, he said they are those who did not care for Islamic injunctions.
On the other hand, the Daily Times (18 November, 2006) reports that not only is there a rift within the MMA, it may be widening.
The rift between the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) widened when Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Amir Qazi Hussain Ahmed asked Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in a harsh tone, to resign from the National Assembly along with other party parliamentarians. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œAsk your MNAs to submit their resignations, otherwise allow other parties of the MMA to do what they want, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? sources quoted Qazi as telling Fazl during a meeting of the supreme council on Thursday. Sources said that Fazl made last ditch efforts to convince Qazi and the leaders of the other four component parties to delay the decision to resign, but in vain. Later, Fazl agreed to tender resignations but sought some time to consult his party senators, MNAs and MPAs.
Sources said Fazl told the meeting that JUI-F Balochistan chief Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani and other members belonging to the same province were not ready to resign. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThey are not ready to act according to my advice,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? sources quoted Fazl as saying. On this Qazi said, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThey should follow the discipline of the alliance.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚?
… [Sources] added that when Fazl told Qazi that Sahibzada Haroonur RashidÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s resignation was in violation of MMAÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s discipline, Qazi referred to Hafiz Hussain AhmedÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s resignation. At this point, sources said, Fazl and JUI-F Secretary General Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidery exchanged harsh words with Hafiz and termed the latterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s resignation from the NA a revolt… On the issue of WomenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Protection Bill, sources said that Haidery said the bill passed by the NA was not un-Islamic, which infuriated the meetingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s participants.
A separate report, also in the Daily Times, suggests that the resignations are already with the MMA leadership:
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe have resigned and the resignations are with me,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? MMA President Qazi Hussain Ahmed told a press conference on Friday, and dispelled the impression that the MMA was internally divided over resigning in protest against the bill. He did not show the resignations to the media, but smiled when asked how he persuaded Maulana Fazlur Rehman to resign from the National Assembly. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe will submit the resignations during the next NA session,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? he said. Qazi said the MMA had left ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œno doors openÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? for negotiations over the resignations. He did not set any date for resigning from the Senate or the NWFP government. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA decision on resigning from the Senate or the Balochistan government can come any time,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? he added.
Meanwhile the discussion has now begun to focus on what might happen if the MMA does actually resign. One view is that to save itself the embarrassment of a mass resignation, the government may postpone the next session of the National Assembly. Qazi Hussain Ahmed seems to have thought this one through; according to the Daily Times:
The MMA on Friday vowed to submit a requisition for the upcoming National Assembly session in case the government tries to delay the session till March 15. There were reports that the federal minister for parliamentary affairs had advised the prime minister to delay the NA session for four months in the wake of the MMAÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s decision to resign from the NA. Some federal ministers, including Sher Afgan Niazi, later denied the reports in their official statements… The MMA has 67 members in the NA and needs the support of at least 19 more MNAs to successfully requisition a session in December.
Meanwhile, the Urdu newspaper Jang (18 November, 2006) reports that Maulana Fazal ur Rahman has also said that the decision to resign will be implemented but he has suggested that the resignations will come only in the National Assembly and not in the Senate or Provincial Assemblies. Interestingly, he seems to be suggesting that there is a chance that the government may conduct early elections on the seats that the MMA vacates through resignation. He threatened street action from MMA and its allies if this were to happen. To quote the exact phrase, the newspaper reports his as saying “hum nay chooRian nahiN pehan rakhien” and that “hukumraan taqat ki zaban samajhtaiN hain tou usi zaban meiN jawab diya jaye ga” (“we are not wearing bangles” and “if the rulers understand the language of force then we will respond in the same language”). It is not clear whether the pun in the first statement was intended.
In an editorial on the subject, titled “Calling the MMA Bluff,” The News (18 November, 2006) ponders on why the MMA has taken the stance it has:
Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the marriage of convenience, as some would have argued and said, between the current government and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal is in tatters following the momentous passage of the Women’s Protection Bill by the National Assembly this week. The government — presumably it all must lead back to President Musharraf himself — has called the MMA’s bluff and the six-party religious alliance’s response has been found wanting. Many have been left wondering why the MMA chose not to come good on its oft-repeated threat of resigning en masse if parliament were to pass the bill amending the Hudood Ordinance without incorporating the recommendations suggested by an ulema committee. Instead of doing that promptly, the MMA has come up with a novel decision. It announced on Thursday that the decision to resign from the National Assembly had been made but will be implemented in early December which raises several questions. Why the time lag and is this now going to be used by the alliance to get concessions from the government? In this, perhaps the MMA thinks that those in the PML-Q who are closer to it ideologically – and we all know who they are – may come out and help it in this matter.
As was already clear, and as became clearer today – when massive rallies were held in Karachi both in favor and against the Bill just passed – the politics of the Womens Rights Bill is larger than the women rights issue alone. It could possibly become the trigger and the catalyst of changes in the political alliances in the country.
Also see updated discussion and debate here.