Zardari has given up little by keeping party post

Asif Ali Zardari has given up the draconian powers bequeathed to the Presidential office by military dictators like Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf. His signatures on April 19 on the Constitution 18th Amendment haven’t lifted his Presidency from the political quagmire that has been its bane since the very inception.

Zardari’s crisis of credibility remains. He has indeed given up powers to send parliament packing or handpick the services chiefs. But the general perception is that he’d continue to be the super boss in his capacity as co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. Even in his newly empowered avatar, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is a lesser leader in the party driven by the Bhutto legacy, the true heir to which is Zardari’ son Bilawal who’s the PPP chairman.

One cannot perhaps imagine a situation where Gilani recommends dissolution of the House or appointment of the new army chief without prior endorsement by the party high command (read Zardari or his son Bilawal).

Many Pakistani observers believe Zardari’s image could have risen in popular perception had the PPP’s track record of governance not been not all that abysmal. The reforms that have restored broadly the 1973 Constitution piloted by the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto are meaningless for a vast majority of Pakistanis reeling under the weight of unemployment, power cuts and abject poverty for want of effective administration at the center and in the provinces.

It was Zardari’s anxiety to sustain himself in the presidency that saw him bowing to articulate sections of the civil society (who wanted the PM to wield the powers he held) and the Army. As brought out by Gen. Kayani’s key role in the recent strategic dialogue in Washington, the latter’s sway over foreign policy issues is all pervasive, be it the US, India or Afghanistan.

The new Constitution adequately addresses questions of federalism, provincial autonomy and supremacy of Parliament. But a judgment on is efficacy or the lack of it will have to await a situation where the president isn’t also the head of the ruling party. Zardari hasn’t, unlike the previous PPP president Farooq Leghari (who fell out with Benazir Bhutto during his tenure) given up his party allegiance. The issue is pending adjudication in a court of law but past precedents show the incumbent president in extremely bad light especially when he had – in the immediate aftermath of Benazir’s assassination — presented himself as “the Sonia Gandhi of Pakistan.”

In retrospect, the parallel looks odious. Zardari lacks Sonia’s grace and the de facto authority she has over the affairs of the Congress and the government it leads. Zardari’s insecurities manifest glaringly at the solemn ceremony at which he put his seal on the 18th Amendment.

The new Constitution is the result of an unprecedented political consensus between parties on either side of the divide. But a clutch of PPP workers at the presidency were allowed to eulogize Zardari in the manner they hailed ZAB and his daughter. “Zardari sada sher hai, baki haer-pher hai (Zardari’s the king, everything else is dubious).”

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