THE Supreme Court has issued an order, the Lahore High Court has weighed in too and now the presidency appears to be responding: official political activities at the presidency have been curbed and more informal meetings are taking their place, according to a report in this newspaper yesterday. The presidency is doing the right thing. The constitution may be silent on whether a president can continue to hold an official position within a political party but the office of the presidency does at the very least seem to be apolitical in its design. Much can be made out of the unnecessary and excessive needling between the government and the superior judiciary but in the case of political activities at the presidency, a central fact ought to be kept in mind: whatever the precise legal and constitutional position, the presidency ought to steer clear of partisan politics, particularly given the unfortunate use of the presidency over the decades to further narrow political and personal goals.
In structure at least, President Zardari has unquestionably ceded powers to parliament and the prime minister. The 18th Amendment has put in place a system wherein parliament and the prime minister theoretically enjoy paramount power and over the course of time that theory can become practice as the democratic project continues to develop. While President Zardari is the unquestionable boss of the PPP and as such any prime minister from his party will defer to him if deemed necessary, there have been signs — though admittedly not robust signs — that an internal party dictatorship is not totally skewing the desired structure of the state and political government. For while former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani eventually sacrificed himself defending his boss against action by the Supreme Court, the strained relationship between the president and Mr Gilani was also undeniable. The tension has been attributed to President Zardari’s unhappiness with some choices and policies of Mr Gilani while he was prime minister. So it does appear that the presidency is not exercising its veto as blatantly as it could, nor is it totally running roughshod over the various ministries, though Mr Zardari still has the unfortunate habit of referring to ‘his’ ministers when in fact they are technically the prime minister’s.
Still, much more needs to be done. And perhaps also it is time to start thinking about a hitherto taboo subject: President Zardari’s parallel role as co-chairman of the PPP. The co-chairmanship came at a time of wrenching change in the PPP, but nearly five years on, the democratic project could be strengthened by a further noble gesture.