What’s the hurry to get the president out?
By Babar Ayaz
Game plan of the establishment – at the cost of the economy and people’s nerves – apparently is to get President Zardari out. They have a two-pronged strategy: one, playing on the prevailing perception that all the corruption starts and ends with the prime minister and president. So they should be declared corrupt by the courts and unfit to rule; and two, that he is a threat to the national security if the commission declares that Haqqani wrote or dictated the mysterious memorandum.
Removing the president constitutionally is difficult because a two-third majority is needed in the parliament to impeach him. It is not possible at this stage in view of the interests of the coalition parties. Once the new members to the Senate would be elected on 2nd March it would be more difficult as under Article 47 the constitution requires two-third majority of the parliament – Senate and National Assembly – for impeachment. It says: “…the President may, in accordance with the provision of this Article, be removed from office on grounds of physical or mental incapacity or impeached on charge of violating the constitution or gross misconduct.”
To establish these grounds the NRO case against him is being followed. On the way the prime minister has to be sacrificed for not asking the Swiss government to open a case against his president on charges of money-laundering. If he says that is an insult to his party, he is asked to rise above the party interest. But when we officially say that our elected president is a corrupt man, we are honourable men and are not insulting our county.
Notwithstanding the general perception that the president is corrupt, the fact remains that he has not been convicted in a single case since PPP government was ousted in 1996. So the fact remains that we should first get the case through the proper judicial channel. What has to be kept in mind is that he along with Benazir Bhutto was convicted by the Lahore High Court’s Justice Quayum under pressure from Nawaz Sharif hatched-man Saifur Rehman. The Supreme Court on receiving undisputable evidence declared it a mistrial and asked for a fresh judicial hearing. The matter rests there.
What is not understandable for those who remember this is why the court is insisting to right a letter against the alleged culprit while he has not been convicted in the local courts for getting a bribe from SGS for awarding a contract. The local courts are under the superior court so they can continue with the judicial process and let the president claim immunity under the constitution. At the face of it he has the immunity unless legally struck down by the court by over-stretching the meanings of Article 248 and its sub-clauses. Pakistanis have waited for justice to be done for 11 years when Asif Zardari was in jail and on the run. For the last four years he enjoys presidential immunity. So a year before he can be voted out in next elections is not long to wait now.
From the dismissal of Feroz Khan Noon’s government by Sikandar Mirza-Ayub Khan duo, to Musharraf, every military conquest of Pakistan has been in the name of weeding out corruption. And yet the politicians bounced back because Pakistanisbelieve that with all its faults a democratic dispensation is good for them. The businessmen and a section of chattering middle classes have always collaborated with the military governments because they flourish under such regimes. The cost of intellectual dishonesty, dangerous foreign and national security policy and corruption done during the military governments has always been condoned retroactively.
To get the president declared a threat to national security, Hussain Haqqani had to be trapped in a sting operation. Who could be the best bait for clever Haqqani to bite than Mansoor Ijaz a person who had repeatedly written against the ISI? Allegations against Haqqani have to be proved first before he is made to put the blame on his ‘boss’ – President Zardari. Suppose this happens the way those who have created the ‘Memogate’ have planned. Even in that case the president will have to be impeached, which as explained earlier is easier said than done.
The big question is that what’s the hurry now in pushing the government out when technically they have only a few months left? There are three scenarios now:
Scenario One: that PPP-led coalition manages to ward of the present pressure and holds the election after the completion of the present assemblies’ term in February 2013. In that case elections have to be held within 60 days so the maximum they can stretch the elections is to April 2013. But before that they have to agree in an equally represented bipartisan parliamentary committee on the nomination of a care-taker government. So what could be the worst case scenario for the opposition and impatient establishment would be that to wait for around 13 months from now;
Scenario two, Prime Minister Gilani is disqualified. In that eventuality the coalition can still nominate somebody from the assembly as the next prime minister. The rumours are that they can float the name of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ehsan, who would be acceptable to the opposition also. He can be elected through by-election as a consensus candidate of PPP and PML (N);
And scenario three, the government promises to hold early elections. Even in this scenario the election process as given in the constitution would take at least three months if not more. First at least a month would be taken to agree on the care-taker set up with the opposition, so February is gone. That means elections could be held after the budget 2012-13. Now for any coming government and given the state of Pakistan’s economy it would be ideal that the budget is presented by the care-takers. This would pass the buck of taking many tough pending economic decisions to the care-taker set up. No political government anywhere in the world can afford to take such measures so let the care-takers who are not dictated by popularism do this.
But even in this case what Pakistanis can gain by advancing the change of government by just eight months? The only beneficiary could be the ruling coalition who can pass the economic mess to the care-takers to clear and Nawaz Sharif who is losing wickets to the pace bowler — Imran Khan. The establishment can take solace that they maneuvered the ouster without getting their boots dirty and the courts can celebrate their victory of ousting an elected government before time through judgments in the name of cleansing corruption at the top. Down there corruption at every level, however, would continue to flourish as usual. (firstname.lastname@example.org)