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The Express Tribune Editorial: Is the ‘Get Zardari’ campaign democratic?

The visceral, non-intellectual approach to the issue of the president’s illness conveyed the extent of degradation Pakistan has allowed itself when it comes to democracy. PHOTO: PID/ FILE

President Asif Ali Zardari got sick and had to go to the UAE to get medically looked after. The media began to talk most blatantly about his ‘exit’ from Pakistan without realising what it would look like to anyone looking in from outside the country. The visceral, non-intellectual approach to the issue of the president’s illness conveyed the extent of degradation Pakistan has allowed itself when it comes to democracy. It recalled the ‘escape’ from the political system by two former prime ministers: Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif.

The quality of comment assumed that not only was the exit of President Zardari welcome as a step towards ‘cleansing’ the system from corruption but, also, that the earlier departures of the two prime ministers were good for Pakistan.

From the nature and quality of discussion in the country, it appears that there is a consensus against the democratic process and there is subliminal support for any unconstitutional replacement that may be in the offing. No one cares for the Constitution because the reflex of ignoring it in favour of military intervention is highly developed. Public statements after the memogate affair are worshipful of the Pakistan Army and accusations of ‘treason’ are being directed at an elected government. (It would be a first in the history of democracy if treason is presented as a crime aimed against the army.) No one is thinking of the constitutional way of changing the government — that of challenging it to show majority in parliament or waiting till the next elections in 2013 and defeating it at the polls. President Zardari has to be removed because the next elections may not be ‘fair’ under him. No one thinks of what the Constitution says.

Governance in Pakistan was never exemplary and now that the situation of law and order has become this bad — because of al Qaeda and sundry other state-supported non-state actors — it is possible that it would be even more abysmal under any post-PPP government. Politicians who would remove President Zardari seem to have a worldview which sees nothing wrong with reconciling with non-state actors who commit acts of terrorism and militancy.

There are cases being heard by the Supreme Court involving the PPP government and President Zardari, but no one makes any pretence of remaining impartial till the honourable court has delivered its verdict. It appears as if the accused is being prejudged and as if a groundswell of ‘national consensus’ is perhaps guiding the honourable court.

Pretend to be a non-Pakistani for a moment and one will see that that there is a collective tendency for self-destruction in all this. Intense politicians looking for populist acclaim repeat that President Zardari is partisan and that, somehow, it is not right that he is president and leader of the party at the same time. The truth is, the Constitution is silent on the matter and a future legislature must amend it to disallow a party leader becoming president. Innovative legalist thinking expects that where the Constitution is silent, the Supreme Court will somehow stretch its activist agenda and remove this constitutional grey area.

Instead of doing all this, why not wait till the next elections and force the PPP government to meet its comeuppance? If corruption has become a national crisis and there is no way out left but to kick out an elected government prematurely, again the Constitution will need to be amended if the PPP’s majority in the National Assembly can’t be broken.

It doesn’t look nice that the people of Pakistan are currently giving the impression of ganging up against their own elected government and that even the Supreme Court is being made to look like the bellwether of the march in all this. The media and the politicians are their visceral worst, if for nothing else, than for the crime of consolidating the traditional supremacy of the army. The PPP government’s mode of survival, given these circumstances, is to blindly follow the lead of the military. Surely, it needs to assert itself and, for this, its biggest strength would be its electorate and no other institution.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2011.

About the author

Junaid Qaiser


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  • daily Times Editorial: President Zardari’s comeback

    On the other hand, President Zardari’s announcement that he will be back soon has blackened the faces of all those scandal-mongers who were looking forward to ousting the president and the government one way or the other. Ever since the PPP-led government took office after the 2008 elections, it has faced adverse reactions from many quarters, including the media. Every other day we heard analysts giving a timeframe for when this government would fall. Nevertheless, it has survived to date and looks likely to complete its tenure. Those who wanted a military-judicial alliance to turf out the government are also in for disappointment as Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry reiterated that there are limits for every institution as per the constitution and all institutions should stay within their parameters so that the country can progress. CJ Chaudhry observed that our nation can achieve political stability, economic development and prosper if we adhere to the dictates of the constitution. The Opposition is also not in the mood to derail democracy. This is substantiated by Mian Nawaz Sharif’s politically mature statements. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) may have gone to the Supreme Court with its Memogate petition but this move cannot be taken as an outright demand to oust the government. Their lordships and the Opposition are not willing to derail democracy. And why should they? Any move leading to the destruction of the democratic process will in effect be as damaging to the opposition parties and the independence of the judiciary as it would the incumbents. It was only wishful thinking on the part of Zardari-haters that the judiciary and the PPP’s rival political parties, especially the PML-N, would help the undemocratic forces.

    Pakistan is no stranger to military interventions, be they direct or indirect. More than three decades have been spent under direct military rule and the other three decades have been spent with the military meddling in political affairs. Now that a democratic dispensation is in place after almost a decade of military dictatorship, it should be given a chance to complete its tenure. Impatience is not the answer; the ballot box is. *

  • Dire-straits democracy -by Masood Khan

    The sudden departure of Pakistan’ President Asif Zardari for medical treatment in Dubai and confusion among government circles about how to put up a brave face after this ‘sudden’ departure has forced the rumour factories in Islamabad to work overtime.

    It is a fact that present government is under siege by a coalition of right-wing parties, a hostile judiciary and military. The government has been facing one crisis after the other, some genuine but also some cooked up to discredit the government or to express simple hate for a civilian setup in Islamabad. But as the same time, the government’s performance has been hopelessly not up to the mark, leading to a general disillusionment among the masses about the very democracy for which they struggled for years.

    There are a number of scenarios on which our establishment could be working: another military coup to put the democracy in its coffin for this decade, go for Bangladesh model wherein judiciary to take over the government for a year or two as front-man for military, or field a political party/candidate who can discredit others with full financial and tactical support from agencies.

    Let’s see, what is going to unfold in these trouble weeks to come for Pakistan’ fragile democracy.

    It’s unfortunate that the actions of opposition parties are also not doing anything to sustain democracy. Apparently, Nawaz Sharif’s writ petition in the SC on the memo scandal, while very well knowing the superior judiciary’s differences with the government on every other issue, might result in a heavy blow to the very democracy which has brought him in power in Punjab. It may plunge the country in another crisis (as if we are short of crises!).

    The SC’s verdict on Memogate can be very well predicted from the way another judicial commission (the one on OBL’s presence/May 02 operation) is proceeding. In an un-called for press conference, Dec 08, commission questioned the very presence of OBL in Pakistan, let alone his elimination on May 02. This view may please many in Pakistan (among those who believe 9/11 never happened) but will we get any buyers in international community. I am quite doubtful on that count.

    If we want a stable democracy to take root in Pakistan, then all progressive forces have to come together to fight the unholy alliance of the forces of dictatorship. But at the same time, the democrats need to deliver and perform.

    Otherwise, murder and exiling of elected leadership will continue. Unfortunately we never learn from our mistakes and knowingly or unknowingly become a tool in the hands of agencies to destabilise the governments. The Zardari government should stand up and fight back from Islamabad not from Dubai. Otherwise, another exile is waiting for them.

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