The political class will be unhappy that ‘anti-parliamentary’ powers are still in the constitution, while the army will be unhappy that the prime minister will not be the man choosing the next services chiefs. – Photo by APP. National
Hearing on tractors and polo ground references put off Hearing on tractors and polo ground references put off President Zardari’s decision to shrug off his security fears and visit various parts of the country has added an interesting twist to national politics. The president’s several allusions to conspiracies against democracy being hatched in unspecified quarters have certainly not gone down well outside the PPP base, with much criticism directed at the president’s apparent conflation of democracy with the completion of his own term in office.
The fact that the presidency has been occupied once again by so partisan an individual has certainly raised many a brow. But with no clear constitutional bar on the leader of a political party simultaneously occupying the presidency, it is perhaps a situation that will have to be tolerated for a while yet. The main issue though is that Mr Zardari’s recent performance has shown that he is willing to put up a fight to save his presidency, which means that his strategy to do so needs to be analysed.
It is clear that Mr Zardari sees a threat to his position but perhaps what has not been fully understood is where he sees that threat really emanating from. Since the NRO judgment, speculation has centred on the superior judiciary and the army high command representing two possible ‘threats’ to Mr Zardari. But it is clear to long-time political observers that the presidential camp is also extremely wary of the PML-N and its leader’s intentions. Unfortunately, this threat perception of the presidency severely complicates the only obvious way for pressure to be reduced on the presidency: the passage of a constitutional amendment bill through parliament that would strip Mr Zardari of most of his powers.
If Mr Zardari is suspicious that the PML-N will make a bid for power after clearing a way to a newly empowered prime minister’s office for its leader Nawaz Sharif, then Mr Zardari will clearly be reluctant to expedite the constitutional amendment. But holding up the constitutional amendment comes with a price. The political class will be unhappy that ‘anti-parliamentary’ powers are still in the constitution, while the army will be unhappy that the prime minister will not be the man choosing the next services chiefs. It is an old dilemma really: fear of the threat from one side exacerbates the threat from other sides.
What next? The ball is in Mr Zardari’s court for now. For the PPP, a party that is once again feeling beleaguered in power, Mr Zardari’s words of late have been a morale booster. But words alone will not pull the PPP-led government from the jaws of fresh controversies. What will count is performance in the face of many challenges. As much rides on the passage of the constitutional amendment as well.