Twenty months after voters swept Benazir Bhutto into office as Pakistan's prime minister, she has been tossed out of government by the country's president. Her ouster was sudden, unceremonious--and entirely constitutional. But it was a step backward in Pakistan's long, difficult march toward democracy.
No doubt Bhutto left a lot to be desired as a leader and administrator. But that's a large and unexclusive club in the world today.
Why didn't they subject her to a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly? Instead, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan abruptly sacked Bhutto for corruption, nepotism and incompetence, invoking the Pakistani constitution, which gives the president authority to dissolve the assembly if he believes the government is unable to carry out its duties. He appointed an interim gov-ernment and promised to hold elections in October.
In short, Khan, who is close to the Pakistani military, was able to stage a constitutional coup. That's no surprise considering the constitution was drafted by Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, whose military regime toppled Bhutto's father. Zia ruled for 11 years until his sudden death two years ago, but even today he casts a long shadow.
Bhutto's popularity plummeted recently as ethnic strife engulfed Pakistan and triggered a near civil war situation in her home province. Critics contend validly that the 37-year-old leader, the first woman to head a modern Islamic state, has achieved little domestically whilecaving in to political patronage.
But corruption at all levels of business and government is not exactly new to Pakistan. Why pick on Benazir? The day before Bhutto's firing, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a pro-West opposition figure who is trusted by the army, said he would lead a no-confidence vote against her. A day later, Jatoi was named her interim successor instead.
Bhutto has said she will participate in the Oct. 24 elections and she should. It might even be a good lesson for the generals if she won.