Aug 24, 2009

Minus-one again

Dawn Editorial
Tuesday, 25 Aug, 2009

Prime Minister Gilani has added his voice to the growing chorus of PPP leaders rejecting the so-called minus-one formula, saying that there is no place for it in a democracy and that it is an attempt by the PPP’s ‘opponents’ to send the entire government packing.

Curiously though the prime minister left the country none the wiser about where precisely the minus-one formula originates from. So what are we to make of these recent ‘events’? First, it is significant that Mr Gilani has himself spoken out against minus-one — after all, were President Zardari to exit, the prime minister stands to be the major direct beneficiary.

The PPP has tried to paper over the cracks in the relationship between the president and the prime minister, but that has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks. The sacking of the chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills and then the removal of the acting chairman in quick order by the prime minister are particularly vivid examples of disagreements over key appointments. Yet, Prime Minister Gilani’s emphatic statement in defence of the president indicates that while he may want to strengthen the democratic system he does not want to do anything to Zardari’s detriment.

The fact is, given Zardari’s impregnable constitutional position, for minus-one to become a reality it would require direct military intervention in politics yet again. Therefore, the second point to note is that even Nawaz Sharif has emphatically rejected intervention in politics by the army high command. This is a welcome signal sent by the leader of the largest opposition party in the country and we hope that the politicians have finally learned the lesson that military intervention is in part triggered by the disarray and chaos that the politicians can unleash with internecine fighting among themselves.

Whatever differences the politicians have with one another, they can only defeat undemocratic forces when they stand united against systemic threats — a fact Sharif appears to have now understood, at least going by his public statements.The third point to note is that minus-one has another, more positive, formulation that has not gained much attention.

If parliament, which includes the president under the constitution, strips the presidency of its substantive powers through a constitutional amendment, Mr Zardari would become no more than a titular head of state. This benign version of minus-one has many pluses: the parliamentary system would receive a boost; a demand of all parties in the country would be met; and President Zardari could boost his poor ratings by fulfilling his pledges. This and only this formulation of minus-one is what the country needs.

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