Political insecurity pits PML-N against media
By Nasir Jamal
LAHORE: A sense of political insecurity and fear of losing its razor-thin majority in Punjab in the wake of the possible disqualifications of a large number of its legislators over fake degrees are seen as having pushed the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in direct conflict with the media. The Sharifs control the Punjab Assembly where their PML-N has a majority. The assembly on Friday passed a controversial resolution, criticising “irresponsible behaviour” of the media.
The resolution, moved by PML-N legislator Sanaullah Mastikhel and passed unanimously, declared that the irresponsible behaviour of the media could adversely affect the constitution and derail democracy.
“They (the PML-N leadership) fear that their majority in Punjab will be wiped out if the wholesale disqualification of its members of the provincial assembly leads to by-polls in the province or mid-term election. The rival Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the PML-Q could make seat adjustments with each other,” Najam Sethi, senior journalist and political analyst, told Dawn on Friday.
“The PML-N stands to lose the most because it (fake degrees) is more of a Punjab-specific issue,” he said.
A majority of legislators disqualified so far for holding fake degrees belong to the PML-N, whose supporters claim that the party is popular enough to beat any alliance.
But political analyst Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais appears inclined to follow Mr Sethi’s line of argument. “The PML-N realises that it will lose heavily if the situation leads to mid-term polls with the PPP led by President Asif Zardari still in power at the Centre and controlling the election commission. They want the Zardari setup to be removed (somehow) and then come to power.”
It may be noted that the major political parties represented in the provincial assembly had launched an onslaught against the media on Wednesday when Shaukat Aziz Bhatti, a member of the PML-Q, criticised the media for maligning public’s elected representatives over fake degrees. They blamed that an “unholy alliance of generals, judges and journalists” was behind the campaign defaming them.
The next day Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif supported the legislators’ onslaught on the media, and stressed the need for a code of ethics for mediapersons. He, however, said the journalists’ contribution to the democratic struggle could also not be ignored.
The situation seemed to have settled after until when Speaker Rana Mohammad Iqbal Khan suspended the assembly’s normal business on Friday to allow the PML-N legislator to bring his resolution. Though none of the parties represented in the assembly – PML-N, PPP and PML-Q, opposed the resolution that was carried unanimously, the speaker extended the session for about 50 minutes to allow the members to revile the media.Dr Rais pointed out that the PML-N leadership was required to stand by its legislators. “It will be the party leadership that will be blamed for the situation in case a good number of its legislators are disqualified over fake degrees. Besides, they will not be left with many election winning candidates (in case many from the present lot are disqualified),” he noted.
Mr Sethi pointed out that the PML-N leadership was pleased with itself as long as the media targeted the PPP and its leadership. Â“But now that they are seeing the danger getting closer to their own home, they have stood up against the media,” he said.
In reply to a question, he said, the PML-N did not realise the ‘depth’ of the problem for itself when it raised the issue of fake degrees. “Mian (Nawaz Sharif) Sahib gave the go ahead to (his party’s member of the National Assembly) Abid Sher Ali to take up the issue to gain moral ground (against the PPP). But now he has realised how deep the problem is for his own party.”
Dr Rais, who described the PML-N-led onslaught against the media in the Punjab Assembly as self-destructive and suicidal for the ruling party in the province, was of the opinion that the party leadership had not thought of political consequences of the action.
“The PML-N leadership must understand that the media has undergone a vast change over the years. They do not understand this change. It is no longer easy to control the media. Their action against the media will not help them. It is going to backfire,” he said.
Observers say the PML-N lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly could not have risen against the media without the blessings of the chief minister. “The move has badly backfired on Mr Shahbaz Sharif,” said a journalist. He said he didn’t want to be named since Mr Sharif, through the Punjab Assembly, had made the media a party to the dispute that is essentially a legal matter.
“Instead of dragging the media into a controversy, their interest would have been better served had the PML-N leader chosen to heap the blame for the ‘unreasonable’ BA degree clause on Gen Pervez Musharraf,” the journalist said. “There is this anti-Musharraf sentiment in the country, especially in Punjab. Just as previously we had Gen Ziaul Haq to pin all our ills on, we now have Gen Musharraf to hold responsible for everything that afflicts us – from loadshedding to terrorism and the rest. The PML-N could have decried the degree as a Musharraf invention too.”
“The PML-N has made a big political blunder which has damaged the image of politicians and prestige of the provincial assembly. It must immediately initiate damage-control actions and apologise for its outburst against the media and withdraw the resolution,” he advised.