Zardari’s golden presidency

Published: September 7, 2013

The writer is a member of the Sindh Assembly

At last, the country is beginning to witness democratic norms which, by now, it would have been accustomed to, had the democratic process not been repeatedly derailed in the country. In mature and developed political systems, peaceful transition of governments and holders of high public offices are a matter of routine and taken for granted. We only longed for it. Though Pakistan has belatedly joined this exalted group of countries and although it may be somewhat premature to announce our irreversible entry into the club, it seems that we have finally embarked on the journey. The speeches made by our national leaders on the occasion of the farewell ceremony of President Asif Ali Zaradari were indeed commendable.

The people of Pakistan have endured various presidential tenures but their experience with their presidents has been rather unpleasant. We either had all-powerful military dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf donning the garb of the president or we had powerful civilian presidents like Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari who caused no less damage to the democratic process than their uniformed counterparts. The former group of presidents had mounted frontal assaults on elected parliaments and abrogated constitutions, the latter group was equally preoccupied with undermining the democratic process from within the existing constitutional framework. At the other end of the spectrum was a residual group of presidents who were so weak and so completely irrelevant that their presence as the symbol of the federation was hardly ever noticed by the people. Presidents Fazal Ilahi and Rafiq Tarar fall in this category.

In sharp contrast to the all-powerful and manipulative presidents or completely irrelevant and weakened presidencies stands the presidency of Mr Asif Ali Zardari, which is at an altogether different pedestal. While the true and lasting impact of his presidency would be judged in due course of time, it is not hard to see that history is likely to record his term as remarkable.

Asif Zardari was not only a democratically-elected president, he was the first and so far the only president who was all-powerful yet used the power of his office as well as his own political capital to strengthen the democratic process and the elected parliament rather than undermine it. In a culture where the smallest functionary of the government is fiercely resistant to any attempt to check let alone reduce his power, it was President Asif Ali Zardari who unilaterally and voluntarily surrendered virtually all his powers as president, which could adversely affect the growth of parliamentary democracy.

This included the power of dissolution of the elected assembly under the notorious provision i.e., Article 58(2)B of the Constitution. Likewise, the crucial power to appoint military chiefs under Article 243 of the Constitution was voluntarily returned by President Zardari to the elected prime minister. Some of the powers of the president, such as the appointment of the chief election commissioner, were not only surrendered by President Zardari but were substituted by a mechanism that involved the opposition in the process of appointments. This was not only unprecedented but truly significant as it takes great vision, maturity and tolerance to involve your political opponents in making constitutional appointments.

While he was the undisputed leader and co-chairman of the country’s largest political party and powerful arguments could have been advanced in support of a constitutional scheme that envisages a politically-oriented and active presidency, yet President Zardari voluntarily accepted the mildly worded  order of the Lahore High Court that the presidency should be non-political.

This was the humble response of President Zardari in a historical context where the last occupant had remained in the presidency in military uniform for many years. He had even grafted a constitutional amendment to introduce the concept of a uniformed presidency. Yet, when eventually he was found violating even his own tailored constitutional bar on uniformed presidency and his further ambitions to contest elections in uniform were challenged in court, and when it was still not clear as to whether the judiciary would come in the way of his lasting ambition, he took no chances and subverted the Constitution and locked the judges. Contrast this to the response of President Zardari.

The true measure of any occupant of an exalted office is whether the office increased the stature of the occupant or he enhanced the office itself. By the time Mr Zardari was elected president of Pakistan, the office of the president was deeply mired in controversies and lacked the respect of the people. While under our constitutional scheme the president represents the unity of the republic, the presidency at that point of time symbolised authoritarianism, usurpation of power and subversion of the Constitution. The incumbent having remained in office in uniform for virtually a decade was in no mood to shed his uniform let alone leave the office. He was determined to and indeed got himself reelected from equally dubious assemblies and that too, close to the end of their own term.

Contrast those gloomy days to the present and it is not hard to understand why nothing better than democracy could possibly be conjured by the human mind. The peaceful, dignified democratic transition, independent judiciary and vibrant media are some of the fruits of democracy. While there are serious problems all around us and the people are facing serious economic hardship, along with problems of law and order and terrorism, yet there is no existential threat to us as a nation. There is certainly no threat to the elected parliament from the presidency as used to be the norm in the past.

If the democratic process, delicately nurtured in past few years, continues without any interruption, there is no reason why we cannot overcome our problems and prosper as a nation. The norms which are being introduced would become entrenched and bear results. While we now cherish the fruits of democracy, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the work of the gardener who lovingly toiled the garden which is beginning to yield fruit.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Sep 8, 2013 - 12:39AM

    A good piece but missing out on many other plus of President Asif Zardari’s presidency like the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, the grant of unprecedented autonomy to the Provinces etc. All said and done President Asif Zardari has secured for himself a unique place in history.

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  • Parvez
    Sep 8, 2013 - 12:49AM

    Madam it would be dishonest of me to say that I agree to anything you have written.
    Democracy at what cost ?………. Democracy was supposed to take the country forward, but what happened in the name of democracy, was not what the people wanted or deserved.

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  • Waqas
    Sep 8, 2013 - 12:57AM

    Great article, i think its not long before people will realize what a wonderful job Mr. Zardari did and the impact of some of his decisions will be long lasting.

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  • aqib
    Sep 8, 2013 - 1:59AM

    If democracy is such a vital goal for our country, Why China’s strict rule (with hardly any democracy) has created such an economic leap, but even after 65 years of continuous democracy-India is languishing far behind the Chinese? So the answer lies in creating a strict rule, rather then anarchy through democracy.

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  • Muhammad Riasat
    Sep 8, 2013 - 2:23AM

    Really Asif Ali Zardari proved in five years a responsible and efficient leader.He served democracy in different wiser approaches.He played always positive role among all provinces and key departments.He remind to political history that freedom to media is proper source of society judgment. His productive role, power sharing , and patient will be helpful to enhance democracy in future . Riasat Gorsi senior vice president PYO UAE .

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  • Ahmad Rezak
    Sep 8, 2013 - 2:26AM

    While the administrative functioning of PPP remained far below standard; President Zardari would be remembered for revitalising Constitution, devolving powers and heading a parliament with an unprecedented legislation from the Constitutional amendments to women empowerment, labor rights to formalisation of varying discretionary powers.

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  • C.M.Sarwar
    Sep 8, 2013 - 2:33AM

    It is too early to comment on the rule/misrule of Zardari .We better leave final verdict with future historian.The writer has recorded her spontaneous responses to Zardari’s rule.May I exercise my right to the same? All these 5 years I always felt that Zardari was governing the state like he used to manage Bambino Cinema before he hit the jackpot which is called Pakistan.

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  • Hassan Shah
    Sep 8, 2013 - 3:41AM

    Jeay Bhutto! Jeay Zardari!!

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  • Akhar
    Sep 8, 2013 - 6:40AM

    Good winde up. True Zradari was/is the most successful politician.
    He know v well how to make compromise in politics, in fact ‘ politics is an art’ and Zaradir know the art. Exceellent Mr. Zardari,but please do bring sincere people in your Party, some people have gigantically demaged Party and they made their own treasures, btw every thing was not good.

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  • ASIM
    Sep 8, 2013 - 10:04AM

    He failed to meet article 62/63, spent 11 years in jail even then made president.

    Is this not the failure of state, Islam and democracy?

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  • imran
    Sep 8, 2013 - 10:27AM

    It is unfortunate that the writer missed alot of stuff that history will record.Firstly he was a political president and the constitution says as being the head of the state president should be neutral. Secondly he chose the presidency because he was facing malicious corruption charges which were shun by immunity provided to the president. The whole time period he serve was you scratch my back and i scratch yours full of corrupt practices in all departments which are a verge of destruction. No one can negate the conflict of zardari with honourable supreme court. It is easy to sung songs of democracy but the real challenge is service to the people. The abbotabad saga and the president foreign tours at the time of flood when the people desperately needed their rulers is not a thing person can forgive. Mofahemat culture instead of eating and grabbing the resources through fight i everyone should have his share in the meal. Democracy is worst when it is made business instead of service. History will record the last period of PPPP as worst of all the political regimes.

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  • shakir shamim
    Sep 8, 2013 - 10:32AM

    Mr zardari conducted 95 foreign tours 25 exclusively for Dubai.what is justification of this wastage of foreign exchange,The Pakistan which is having billions dollar debt and 45% of population is living poverty line, he should have pity on them.

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  • AA
    Sep 8, 2013 - 4:41PM

    more than golden for him.now the richest in Pakistan.

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  • Fahim Khattak
    Sep 9, 2013 - 11:57PM

    No hate mongering and no flattery But lets accept this tenure of President Asif Ali zardari as the triumph of democracy in pakistan. Above all he is a human being and nobody is complete, but he brought the derailed democracy on track once again. 18th amendment, NFC award and the inclusion of opposition in important appointments of the state are his achievements.Insinuating from corruption charges due to constitutional immunity and being alleged of involvement in corruption, his foreign visits-spending the treasury of government- are said to be his negative part in his presidential tenure. For me He is a hero, for you he might be a devil.I needed provincial autonomy, I wanted democracy, I yearned for elimination of terrorism and he did all these for me to a greater extent. Nobody is absolute and i agree with the author that History will remember his days a remarkable era in Pakistani politics and presidency. Lets be optimistic for the upcoming presidents and comparing zadari with the past counterparts, He is a champion of democracy in the real sense of the world. BRAVO Mr. President
    Love You

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  • Mia
    Sep 10, 2013 - 4:39PM

    Oh please have you no shame patronizing at the lowest.

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