Gilani handed the baton to lead charge against opposition
One of the reasons Asif Ali Zardari made the unlikely choice of Yousaf Raza Gilani as prime minister after the 2008 elections was to keep the PML-N happy in its grand coalition. The Sharif brothers have always had a soft spot for Gilani, who they see as sensible and non-confrontational. While Gilani’s presence couldn’t keep the coalition from imploding, he has still been spared criticism from the PML-N, even as they ramp up their campaign against President Zardari.
That may be about to change. Sources in the PPP say that the prime minister will lead the fight back against the PML-N, precisely because his popularity even among those opposed to the PPP will give his words more heft. Unlike the combative PML-N, however, Gilani has no intention of making personal attacks against the opposition, not because he finds descending to that level distasteful but rather because he feels it will show that the government is above the fray of day-to-day politics and concentrating on governance. The only potential problem here is that the monotone Gilani is hardly the most articulate and passionate orator.
Ultimately, the same strategy will be used by the PPP in the campaigning for the next elections. The plan is to have Zardari control the party from behind the scenes and put technocrats known for their expertise and knowledge at the front and centre of the campaign.
Gilani has also been asserting his superiority within the party, privately taking on one of its most powerful members. If there is one person everyone in the party is wary, and even slightly afraid of, is Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Despite a string of gaffes, Malik’s continued influence is ensured by his closeness to the US, which sees him as their representative in the government. So close is Malik to the US that sources within the party say that even Zardari no longer trusts him quite as much as he used to.
Malik’s fondness for unscripted moments in front of the camera led him to tell reporters at the recent Saarc summit in the Maldives that terrorists like Ajmal Kasab should be given the death penalty. He made these remarks while Gilani was holding a meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, and naturally his meeting was overshadowed by Malik’s comments. A furious Gilani gave an earful to Malik and told him in no uncertain terms never to pull such a stunt again.
Meanwhile, as the PPP and PML-N enter the final stage of their tussle for power, PTI supremo Imran Khan is beginning to enjoy the fruits of his new-found popularity. Apart from the daily deluge of politicians clamouring to join his party, Imran was also given VIP treatment by the authorities after his return from China. The traffic police ensured that his vehicle encountered no red lights on its route from the airport to his residence. Unlike politicians serving in the current government though, other traffic was not brought to a standstill just to facilitate Imran’s speedy movement.
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