President's powerlessness responsible for the prevailing crisis

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 02:45 PM, 13 Nov, 2021
President's powerlessness responsible for the prevailing crisis
File photo.

Opposition parties of various shades of opinion are bracing up for a long march on Islamabad to mount pressure on the PTI government to quit. For the sake of cooperation they are willing to forget their bitter memories of the past – that had separated them even after forming an alliance.  

Decisions about the march on Islamabad are expected to be taken in the near future. But nobody is in a position to say anything about the future direction of politics or how the desired change would come about within the parameters of the Constitution.  

Under the existing system in place, a change is possible only if the prime minister resigns; or he dies; or the National Assembly ousts him through a no-confidence motion. 

While there are no indications of the player-turned-politician stepping down voluntarily, the opposition parties are closing ranks to devise an effective strategy.  They have held some meetings for this purpose and are expected to hold more sessions during the days ahead.   

The reservations expressed by the ruling PTI’s allied parties like MQM, PML-Q and GDA raise hope among the opposition parties about the success of their anti-Imran mission. However, the unpredictability of political parties at any juncture makes it impossible for anyone to say anything about the shape of things to come in the country. 

The government is expected to call a joint session of parliament in the near future. Some media reports suggest that the session is likely to be held on November 16 to have bills about the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and the right of vote to millions of overseas Pakistan through internet voting passed. The adoption of these bills at a rescheduled session will add fuel to the fire and the opposition will get an added justification to step up its campaign against the government that they call the product of manipulated 2018 elections. 

Whatever political developments unfold in the days ahead, some known pro-government media outlets have started talking about ‘the beginning of the end' of the PTI rule. One outlet claimed only a day before that a visible change in political weather will be seen by the end of the month.  

But one thing is very clear that it is the decision to disarm the president of the power to dissolve the assembly and call fresh elections which is keeping the PTI in power despite its failure on all fronts. Had the president not been stripped of this power, the incumbent one would have done something to rein in the uncontrolled slide.   

It may be recalled that Pakistan experienced three political phases during the past three decades – each with a different outcome. 

The first was between 1988 and 1997; the second was between 1999 and 2008, and the third one started in 2008 and continues to date. 

During the first phase, then-president Ziaul Haq had dissolved the government of prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo in May 1988 on account of his failures on a number of fronts.  

Thereafter, using this power president Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the governments of Benazir Bhutto in 1990 and that of Mian Nawaz Sharif in 1993. 

Then, president Farooq Leghari packed up the second government of Benazir Bhutto in 1996.  

The ensuing elections brought Mian Nawaz Sharif to power. But the feudal leader of Dera Ghazi Khan had developed serious differences with the Lahori industrialist-turned- prime minister.  

However, before the president could use the lethal power, Nawaz Sharif on account of his majority in parliament stripped him of the ‘hammer’. 

The move changed the balance of power in favour of the prime minister, reducing the president to a rubber stamp. 

The president can’t do anything against the government, no matter what the situation. 

Gen Pervez Musharraf had taken back many powers of the president during his tenure (endorsed by the Supreme Court). But during the period after his departure, the prime minister became all powerful once again. 

The situation remains unchanged even today. 

Incidentally, the incumbent president (Arif Alvi) also happens to be a former secretary-general of the ruling PTI.  

He is a powerless head of state, who cannot be expected to do anything against the government because of his loyalty to the party.   

Perhaps, it's time for all parties to reconsider the president's powers in different situations.