When it comes to politics, people have short memories in Pakistan. That is why voters return the same candidates to the assemblies time and again despite their false promises.
Just a year ago, the issue of Asif Zardari wearing two hats – as party chairman and president of Pakistan was a major point of contention between the PPP and PML-N. The party of the Sharifs led a cacophony of criticism of the president in the national media.
In the Lahore High Court, Advocate AK Dogar filed a petition against the president for holding the two posts; later, the court observed that the office of the president was a symbol of the federation that represented all parties and all territories and the presidency should not be used as a base of political activities. (The president paid little heed to this, continuing as he was before.)
But yesterday, the issue of conflicts of interest arising from one man holding two separate offices appeared to have been forgotten. During the PML-N general council convention, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif picked up a second hat and wore it in front of thousands of cheering supporters. Now the chief minister is president of the provincial chapter of the PML-N too.
The PPP’s Nargis Faiz Malik raised the issue on the floor of the House, but the speaker ordered her to sit down and quickly turned to other business.
However, the fact is the CM has not only merged party offices and executive offices in contravention of stated party policy, but he has also disappointed others who were hoping to become the Punjab president of the party. The party was expected to hand the post to someone from south Punjab. Saif Khosa, son of Zulfiqar Khosa, was a leading contender while Khwaja Saad Rafiq was also eyeing the job. But it was not to be.
The chief minister, it seems, trusts no one in this world but himself when it comes to power. As chief minister he has never shared executive powers with his cabinet or the assembly that elected him. At one time he held the portfolios of 14 departments, the other 22 divided amongst a hand-picked coterie of ministers. Despite sharp media criticism during the dengue outbreak and Punjab Institute of Cardiology medicine disaster, he has never really given up the Health Department, opting rather to appoint a trusted MPA as advisor.
There is another problem. The chief minister has not developed institutional decision-making mechanisms. He doesn’t even have formal procedures in place to run the province. But this issue has failed to attract the media attention that sustained a season-long campaign against the two offices of President Asif Zardari. Not fair.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2012.