ISLAMABAD: While President Asif Ali Zardari, who is already engaged in a tough legal battle in the Supreme Court on the NRO cases, may face a new front this month with the filing of another constitutional petition in the Lahore High Court which challenges his dual offices as head of state and head of the PPP.
Legal experts believe that Zardari’s twin offices could create a new “legal and political controversy” because the real PPP is registered in the name of Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians in the Election Commission.
The issue will be taken up in a petition filed by Pakistan Lawyers’ Forum President AK Dogar in the LHC on October 4. Dogar filed the petition on October 7 last year.
The LHC has summoned Law Secretary Masood Chishti to explain “why the president is conducting regular party meetings” inside the President House.
Sources said that Mr Dogar is likely to argue that “the president…is the symbol of the unity of state and must be non-partisan, impartial, and he should distance himself from party matters and he should shun the party activities”.
The petition was filed under Article 41 (1) of the Constitution.
A five member-judge bench of the Lahore High Court heading by Justice Ijaz Ahmad will conduct the hearing.
The federation’s counsel, Talib Rizvi, filed four petitions contending that courts could not supercede political matters because courts can hear constitutional matters.
Criticising the LHC actions, he said it seemed strange that that the court is taking up a “political matter”, but chose to dismiss three other applications. The court had dismissed three of his petitions without assigning any reason.
“I requested the court to listen to me but I wonder why the court is taking up a political matter.”
Confirming that the political storm will be intense, Senator Safdar Abbasi predicted a tug-of-war among PPP leaders. He elaborated that the PPP is now actually bifurcated in two different forums – one is Pakistan Peoples Party, whose co-chairman is Asif Ali Zardari and the other one is Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians which is headed by Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
“Some serious differences can emerge in the near future on the issue of assigning top party posts, especially in the next party polls,” he said.
Senator Faisal Raza Abidi of the PPP does not subscribe to the idea though. According to him, the post held by President Zardari, the co-chairman, “does not exist in any party documents”. He said that he would have to talk with Law Minister Babar Awan to clarify the issue.
“Technically, he (Zardari) is the co-chairman of the PPP, and Amin Fahim is the president of the PPPP, which is on the Election Commission record,” he said, adding that the new Political Parties Order of 2002 “does not affect the president”.
Former law minister Dr Khalid Ranjha is of the opinion that the president should not indulge in ‘conventional’ political activities. However, the president is “duty-bound not to hold party meetings in public office”.
“Senator Jahangir Bardar is the PPPP’s secretary-general while PPP’s secretary-general is Raja Pervez Ashraf”.
He also agrees with the notion that confusion may prevail in the wake of their filing of petitions against the party’s top slots,” the PPP leader said.
Recalling salient features of the Political Parties Order of 2002, former secretary of the Election Commission Kanwar Dilshad says that the head of the party convicted by courts is also ineligible to hold public office.
Citing the preceding law, the Political Parties Act, Dilshad said that Field Marshal Ayub Khan and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had simultaneously held two offices.
Hamid Khan Advocate said that the President Zardari falls in the category of an “extra human person as he holds two offices”.
“Article 63 of the Constitution speaks of (just) one office,” he explained.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition against dual offices of former president Pervez Musharraf, who also held the post of chief of army staff in 2007.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2010.