Well, the presidency is now up for grabs. And the public has been presented with photographs and details of the major candidates competing for the top ceremonial post. By now, those who are interested have probably decided which of the three they would like to see enjoying a sinecure with guaranteed inactivity.
The problem is, they can only play the role of a voyeur. The actual business of deciding who will get to sit at the top table will be determined by the members of both houses and the provincial assemblies. If you voted in the national election, you would have, in a kind of political osmosis, already decided which of the candidates you would like to see sitting in the barricaded fortress in Islamabad. However, if you didn’t vote at all, and happen to belong to the tribe that believes that nothing is going to change, you can always turn to the BBC and CNN and see how the royal baby is getting on.
The job of a civilian president, especially in a country like Pakistan, is essentially a ceremonial one and involves, among other things, dishing out certificates at university graduation ceremonies and hosting dinners for visiting foreign firemen. Asif Zardari ruined the stereotype, somewhat, but the rest are guaranteed to conform. There have been occasions when a military head of state has taken his job rather seriously, and after having spent years ingesting the vile emetic effusions of sycophants, dismissed an honest prime minister for performing his duties most assiduously. There have also been cases of totally capricious behaviour where a civilian president has gotten rid of his prime minister, because he thought it was the natural thing to do, even before the latter had been fully debilitated by the halitosis of insider intrigues. In the United States, the president has at times to kiss babies at public ceremonies. In Pakistan, the head of state has so far resisted the temptation of showering any affection on the winners at the annual Horse and Cattle Show.
After Independence, the titular head of state in Pakistan was the British monarch. With the passage of the 1956 Constitution, when Pakistan became a republic, Iskander Mirza of the Republican Party was appointed its first president. He was toppled two years later in a military coup by General Ayub Khan whose 11-year rule has been described as the Golden Age of Pakistan. The two other military dictators who came in through military coups were General Ziaul Haq, who established a landmark in retrogression and obscurantism, and was chiefly responsible for the militancy which currently threatens the fabric of our society. And General Pervez Musharraf, whose first few years were quite exemplary, until he started listening to his prime minister and decided to take on the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
This time, the election for the presidency is rather dreary. The landscape is no longer seething with atmosphere and portent and the gripping unknowingness that pervaded the national election in which lots of people expected a social earthquake from Imran Khan. Lobbying for the man of their choice has already started in the National and provincial assemblies and Senate and the identity of the winner appears to be a foregone conclusion. Mamnoon Hussain, the front runner for the Muslim League, is streets ahead of his rivals. If there is something that Nawaz Sharif cherishes above everything else, it is loyalty. And Hussain has that quality in abundance. He also has the added advantage of having had a stint as a governor. One can only hope he remains objective in a political dispute.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2013.
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