100 Days in Pakistan

March 27, 2008 by  


By Ilyas Choudry, MMNS

Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani Elected 264/42 to Head the Government

Amidst slogans from the public gallery of Pakistan’s National Assembly of “Long Live Bhutto!” and “Go Musharraf Go!”, the 52-year-old first woman speaker of Pakistan’s Parliament, Ms. Fahmida Mirza, announced that 55 years old Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) had received 264 votes out of the 342-seat lower house of parliament, while his token contender Chaudhry Pervez Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) that backs President Pervez Musharraf, had won 42.

Among those present on the occasion in the public gallery, was Bhutto’s teenage son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was seen wiping away tears and then came down to shake hands with Mr. Gilani.

With this overwhelming 77% support, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has become the 27th Prime Minister of Pakistan. This is the first time in 12 years that the PPP will head the government.

The first 100 days of any elected government are considered most crucial. During his first speech after being elected, the Ex-Speaker of the Parliament Mr. Gilani made two key pledges: First is to demand the immediate release of all the arrested judges and second is to seek a resolution calling for a UN investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

President General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf has been badly weakened by the results of the February elections. With one of his earlier supporting Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) now behind PM Mr. Gilani, many fear President’s days are numbered. However the past experience has shown that Mr. Musharraf has successfully come out of many stiff challenges.

Mr. Gilani’s daunting task as PM include pulling together a large coalition, taking the pressure from the outside world to do more in the war on terror according to the wishes of these exterior forces, tackling ever increasing militancy in the society, maintain the GDP growth of the country 7%(+) and severe economic problems in terms of high inflation rate and power shortage issues.

Many political analysts feel that Ms. Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari is PPP’s most powerful figure and because of that Mr. Gilani may start to face the situation, where he would be termed as Zardari’s Yes Man.

The first hundred days of PM Mr. Gilani are further in jeopardy due to widespread speculations that Mr. Zardari only wants Mr. Gilani to hold the post on an interim basis, while Mr. Zardari takes the necessary steps to make him eligible to become PM. That would include Mr. Zardari winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election and having all the court cases against him cleared. He has almost got the courts work done, as a murder cases in which he was implicated, he has got reprieved from it the same day Mr. Gilani’s PM candidacy was announced.

However on Monday, Mr. Zardari was quoted in a local Pakistani Daily as saying that Mr. Gilani will serve a full five-year term as Prime Minister.

Who is Yusuf Raza Gilani?

Born in Karachi, Sind on 9th June 1952, the newly elected 27th Prime Minister of Pakistan Yusuf Raza Gilani hails from a most prominent landowner and spiritual (Sufi) family from the Province of Punjab. Their family home town is the ancient Punjabi City of Multan, one of the oldest uninterrupted human communes in the world. The family’s prominence naturally led to vying for political power. Before the birth of Pakistan on 14th August, 1947, his grandfather and grand-uncles joined the All India Muslim League and were signatories of the 1940 Pakistan Resolution. This was the declaration which eventually led to the founding of Pakistan.

Mr. Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) has been very careful in electing its higher officials, ever since one of their own party’s President of Pakistan Farooq Ahmed Leghari ousted PM Benazir’s Government. President of Pakistan acts neutral and heads the State of Pakistan and as such does not belong to any single party, but Mr. Leghari was a life-time member of PPP. He had to resign from PPP to become President with the votes of PPP Government, but he later on expelled PPP Government of Benazir Bhutto.

That is said to be one of the reasons it took long time for PPP to announce their PM this time, as they feared establishment influence. By his own admission, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, has not been one of the “good boys”, who has followed the bidding of President Pervez Musharraf. The regime tried to coerce him into joining many of his PPP colleagues in switching sides. But Mr. Gilani refused to do a deal with Mr. Musharraf and that is why his loyalty is much admired within his party.

Mr. Gilani went to jail in 2001, serving five years following a conviction over illegal government appointments. This was during his term as Speaker of parliament of between 1993 and 1996. The sentence was passed by an anti-corruption court formed by President Musharraf as part of what he termed measures to cleanse politics. His opponents say it was a means of intimidating and coercing their members to join his government.

For Mr Gilani that was never a choice, his supporters say. A tall, softly-spoken man with an air of authority, supporters say he is known for doing the right thing.

In 1995, Mr Gilani issued instructions for the release of parliamentarians detained by his own PPP government. When the interior ministry refused to oblige, he had the matter brought on record – a quite unprecedented action.

His remarks after he was sentenced in 2001 were similarly unequivocal. He told the news media that the charges were “concocted and were fabricated to pressurize him to leave the PPP”. “Since I am unable to oblige them, they decided to convict me so that I could be disqualified and an example set for other political leaders who may learn to behave as good boys,” he said at the time. His stance and defiance won him many admirers, even among the government.

Anti-establishment politics and leadership is something like a birth right for him. His father, Alamdar Hussain Gilani served as a provincial minister in the 1950s. Mr. Gilani joined up in 1978, when he became a member of the Muslim League’s central leadership. This was soon after he completed his MA in journalism at the University of Punjab. His first term as a public servant was as a nominee of General Zia-ul-Haq. The Pakistan Army chief had been the country’s dictator since he overthrew elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a 1977 coup. Mr. Bhutto was later executed in 1979, an act that forever soured the relationship between the army and the PPP.

Mr Gilani was elected as the Chairman of the Multan union council in 1983. Two years later he was elected to the federal parliament. It was during this first stint that circumstances arose which led to his leaving the League. While serving as a minister he fell out with then Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Junejo. This led to him being replaced as minister and sidelined in the party.

In his book, Chah-e-Yusuf ki Sada (Reflections from Yusuf’s Well), which he wrote in jail, he said: “I was furious, and helpless at the same time, I knew I could not continue… and then I made up my mind.” Mr. Gilani says he went to Karachi to meet Benazir Bhutto, Zulfiqar Bhutto’s daughter, then very much in the political wilderness. General Zia was still in power and the PPP faced an uncertain future. Mr. Gilani says he presented his offer to immediately join the PPP. “Ms Bhutto said to me, ‘There is nothing I can offer you, why have you come?’” Mr. Gilani said his reply was what sealed his relationship with the PPP and the Bhuttos. “I said to her, there are three types of people in this world. “Lovers of honor – of wisdom – and – of wealth. I am of the first type, and that is all I want.”

Soon afterward, General Zia dismissed Mr. Junejo’s government. Mr. Gilani then joined the PPP, months before the general’s death bought an end to its political exile. Observers say it is his loyalty and his disdain for politicking within the party that has earned him the nomination for prime minister. Many believe he would be willing to quietly step aside, if Ms Bhutto’s widower Asif Zardari becomes an MP and therefore eligible to become Prime Minister. Many say for PPP, Mr. Gilani is the safest bet.

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