First, let me by absolutely upfront and clear. I do not know if Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani is going to be replaced. That is the whole point, I do not know. But, I would very much like to know. Hence, the question mark at the end.
So, please, all rumor-mill mongers, lets not make this into anything more than it is. The rumors I am hearing are exactly the same one that you are hearing. What worries me is that I am hearing them more and more. If they are just rumors, what is the significance of their spreading so fast and furious now? And if they turn out to be more than just rumors, what would that mean for Pakistan?
There is something, of course, in the timing of all of this.
The Prime Minister’s domestic performance has left a trail of embarrassments. The problems of high energy and food prices cannot be laid on his door, but have not helped. A fiasco-ridden first television address to the nation may end hurting PTV’s new management but it has hurt the Prime Minister even more.
The Prime Minister’s international sojourns have been no less spectacular, and possibly more worrisome. An much-touted but uninspiring US trip ended with the US accusing Pakistani ISI to have had a hand in a horrible Kabul bombing on the Indian Embassy. A possibly more important meeting with the Indian Prime Minister at the SAARC summit was preceeded with a statement from India that Pakistan-India relations are now (because of the same bombing) at a recent low.
Having met and heard him speak recently, I can say that one-to-one he comes across as a man full of Southern-Punjab charm and affection, but he really is not someone known for Obama-like oratory. One senses, however, that it is not a lack of oratory skills that he is being grilled for by his critics.
For the PPP, the only option left is for Zardari to come back to Pakistan, if he can get over his family problems quickly. He must head for the PM House, get himself elected and assume the charge as PM because Yousuf Raza Gilani cannot deliver anything nor can he be blamed for not doing so.
Upon his return from the trip, Mr. Sehbai’s assessment was even harsher: “the man who represented democracy in Pakistan fell short on many scores.”
Washington was not ready for such a visit and whoever forced it on Gilani did a great disservice to the man, to the party he represents and to Pakistanâ€™s infant democracy. At a time of great internal political, administrative, security, economic and social turmoil, packing him off to Washington as a showpiece, so early in office, could at best be described as a deep conspiracy of sorts.
The prime minister was not ready for the visit as he has yet to learn the basics of the governance, starting with speaking before the TV prompter to the nation, to determining how to handle big or small issues, how to consolidate power and how to demonstrate it. He is only a beginner.
The very independent, but generally sympathetic to PPP, columnist Khalid Hassan’s comments in the Daily Times were even more scathing:
With the uncertainty prevailing at home, the coalition, a partnership in name only, the judges issue still hanging in the air and with the NWFP and adjacent areas slipping out of state control, Gilani should have stayed home and only come when things had settled down. No one in Washington has any illusions about Pakistan, nor people here are unaware of where power lies. It is known that the prime minister exercises little authority and all decisions are taken by others.
There are, of course, others – including in a Daily Times editorial that seemed to be rebutting a column in its own pages – who think that the criticism of the Prime Minister’s visit to the US is overblown. Indeed, it may well be.
What is clear, however, is that it is not just the USA visit, or just the PTV speech fiasco, or just any other single thing. It is all these things and more that are keeping people from having faith in the leadership of Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani.
The real charge, it seems, is that he really is not in-charge and may be asserting even less leadership than he is being allowed to. As one commenter in our recent ATP Poll on this subject suggested: “Yousuf Reza Gillani is to Asif Ali Zardari what Fazal Elahi Chaudhry was to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.” That itself may be a bum rap, but as other readers pointed out, what was most striking – disturbingly so – in the results of the poll was that after 7 days of polling and 411 votes case, not a single reader voted for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.
In all the polls that we have conducted at ATP, this has to be teh single most surprising and striking result. What is surprising and striking is not that people do not think that the Prime Minister is truly in-charge of the country. That is not news. But what is striking and surprising is that not even a single person voted in this poll for him.
Of course, our Polls are not a scientific sample. But, although this sample represents all the biases of the select group that visits this blog, it is nonetheless a political diverse community (just read the comments on any political post) and there is nearly never a unanimity on anything. To see such unanimity on Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani is, therefore, noteworthy. One would have expected that maybe he would get a few sympathy votes, or votes from a few die-hard PPP supporters, or from those who keep leaving messages (sometimes asking for jobs) on our earlier post on him. But, no, not a single vote was recorded for him! (Even the proposition, in an earlier poll, that Gen. Musharraf would not be able to get himself elected President got 3 percent of the vote!).
For those who wish to see a stable working democracy evolve in Pakistan the image of a Prime Minister who no one thinks has any power is sad and disturbing. There is clearly something that is leading to more and more people asking: “Is Yousuf Raza Gillani on his way out?” But why is the chorus around this question growing now?
Is it because there are dark and sinister forces who are purposefully creating such an impression? Is it because he really was a bad choice and therefore should be replaced? Is it because we as a people are too impatient and have not really given him a chance to settle into the job? Is it because PPP is now ready for an internal change and all of this is in preparation for that? Or is it because (as 39 percent of our Poll respondents felt) no one is really in-charge of Pakistan and this is just a manifestation of the country spiraling further into chaos?
The sad fact is that in Pakistan today, any and all of the above is possible.