President Zardari — also party leader?

Few are convinced that with President Zardari at helm, free or fair will be the order of the day when it finally comes

Amina Jilani August 03, 2012

Well, well, where else in the democratic world under a parliamentary system that we know of does a head of state indulge in electioneering campaigns? But then, also, in the democratic world under a parliamentary system, is the head of state the virtual boss of a political party in power? Right now, our head of state masquerades as the co-chairman of the ruling party — a bit of a cover-up, as we know the clout of the official chairman.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s performance in his home province at the end of last month was, for a head of state, to put it mildly, deplorable in the extreme. In the first place, he should never have held the dual positions as this is not in consonance with a democratic parliamentary system. But then who was to stop him or persuade him otherwise? The Supreme Court? That he does hold both positions, in his particular context — as wrong and unseemly as it may be — makes perfect sense. Under the Constitution, constantly and often uselessly evoked, we all know what the head of state actually should be and that is the occupant of a ceremonial office divorced from day to day politics, observing strict neutrality when it comes to political games and gamesmanship.

He did wrong wooing Manzoor Wassan and the Kot Diji crowd — he did wrong not only in doing what he did but more so in saying what he said. He had no business in fulminating and fuming against what passes for an opposition and he was certainly out of line when he boasted that the PPP, after the free and fair elections to come, would dominate all four provinces of the land. To say what he said about the Sharif brothers was not the stuff that should have been issued from the mouth of a head of state — but yes, from a political party leader of a Third World country, it would have been acceptable.

From a head of state, under a parliamentary system no matter how wonky, it was just unacceptable. Has President Zardari lost it? Was the frothing at the mouth of Kot Diji the start of an attempt to emulate and copy his late father-in-law’s tactics? If it was, it is not going to work. He may wave the Bhutto banner but he can never ever be another Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He should stick to his cool unflappable self, which he has managed with a few exceptions here and there for the past four years, ignoring all criticism and barbs flung at him, not retaliating in any manner, not getting his own back on anyone. He should remain the President Zardari who can outfox and outwit, keeping in mind the fact that he, under no circumstances, wishes to relinquish the precious immunity.

Free and fair elections — well, are they an option? Fakhruddin G Ebrahim notwithstanding, who will need all his wits about him if he is to do the job he has been entrusted with efficiently and in proper manner, few are convinced that with President Zardari at the helm and his need to dominate so as to preserve the immunity, free or fair will be the order of the day when it finally comes.

We have learnt last week that there are some 85 million people of the 180 million-plus who can cast their votes. Going by previous statistics, some 30 to 40 per cent of the registered voters actually vote and they are inured to voting according to the orders and enticements they receive from their powerful political masters.

For the National Assembly, 342 citizens will be voted in directly or put into reserved seats. The Punjab assembly has 371 seats up for grabs, direct and reserved. Sindh has 168 seats, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has 124 and Balochistan has 65. Sad to say, most of the representatives of the minority of the population, with a few exceptions, can be classified as leeches attached to the national exchequer.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.