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Pakistan’s powerless president

Mansoor Jafar

Published: Updated:

The new parliament in Pakistan is going to elect the country’s new president (also the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the country’s highest office) on August 6, 2013, the election commission has announced.

In view of the existing shape of the parliamentary system in Pakistan and the country’s political culture where political heads and the Army want a spineless puppet in that position, I imagine that it will be merely the selection of a yes-man. And the country’s three main political parties, including the ruling PML-N and opposition’s PPP and Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI), amply proved it by their nominations for state’s top most office.

Their nominees for the office of Pakistan’s twelfth president and supreme commander of the armed forces are mere political pygmies, the cricket team's twelfth man. None of these nominees is a central leader of their respective parties, nor do they hold any key post. They have no constituencies of their own and would not be independently electable candidates if given a chance to contest general elections.

The twelfth man

The PPP government in its recent tenure drastically reduced the powers of the president, making the office virtually symbolic rather than practical. Through the 18th amendment in the constitution the president was stripped of his power to dissolve parliament in view of imminent breakdown of state institutions from any serious political crisis. This power was given to the president by [late, retired] General Ziaul Haq and was used by him and two subsequent presidents to dissolve four assemblies prematurely.

Their nominees for the office of Pakistan’s twelfth president and supreme commander of the armed forces are mere political pygmies, the cricket team's twelfth man.

Mansoor Jafar

For those not familiar with the game, the twelfth man in cricket is a substitute player who is included in the playing eleven only when a regular player is injured. During the game, he has to do the odd jobs of bringing water, gloves or any instructions from the captain to the batsmen in the field, as and when desired. He is often referred to as the ball boy of cricket.

Pakistan’s political history is full of nominations for top government positions based only personal likes and whims. The late PPP founder and former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is known for appointing a worker as ambassador to France after the lucky worker raised the loudest slogan in his favor at a public meeting with Bhutto.

Sharif’s yes-man

The most likely nominee among the names considered by the ruling PML-N is Mamnoon Hussain, a businessman from Karachi who also held the post of Governor of Sindh province for a few months during the party’s last stint in power in 1999, when Nawaz Sharif’s government was dismissed by [retired] General Pervez Musharraf. Mamnoon Hussain is known to be a yes-man of Nawaz Sharif and a caterer to his culinary needs. During the days of Hussain’s governorship, Nawaz Sharif used to visit Karachi just to taste the delicious oriental dishes his wife used to make.

Mamnoon displayed his loyalty to Nawaz Sharif when as Governor of Sindh he issued a condemnation of the General Musharraf-led military coup. During those days, Nawaz Sharif had another, more trusted acolyte at the post of country’s president, Rafiq Tarar. A former judge of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Tarar was initially allowed by General Musharraf to continue as president for several months before the General assumed the post himself. Probably that coexistence with Musharraf’s martial law cost Tarar dearly, as now Nawaz Sharif has not even considered his name for presidency.

An ‘already lost’ contest

PPP’s nominee is Senator Raza Rabbani, a veteran leader from the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto days and a middle class businessman from Karachi. He has been leader of the House in the Senate during the five-year tenure of PPP rule. The soft-spoken Raza Rabbani has never been in the good books of PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari who has reportedly tried to keep him away from the government corridors all through the party’s five year rule. He was not made prime minister for the remaining six months tenure despite the pressure from party workers after then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified by the Supreme Court for showing contempt of court. But now, having found no other suitable candidate to field in this ‘already lost’ contest, Zardari is forced to nominate Raza Rabbani.

PTI’s presidential nomination is Justice [retired] Wajeehuddin Ahmad, a well-reputed and honest judge of the Supreme Court. He hails from a family of jurors, also from Karachi. He enjoys a lot of respect all over the country for being an honest, upright and learned personality.

Wajeehuddin Ahmad was nominated as the PML-N candidate for 2008 presidential elections which he lost against Asif Zardari. Nawaz Sharif is believed to have nominated him in order to kill two birds with one stone. Former judge Ahmad was chosen because he was very popular among the masses after having led the lawyers’ movement for restoration of Supreme Court judges illegally dismissed by military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Mr. Ahmad’s nomination was aimed at making people believe the PML-N was not bringing any party stalwart or Nawaz loyalist for county's top slot and an independent and neutral personality was chosen for the post. But, he never figured in any other political activity of the PML-N after that. Now PTI is nominating him again in a ‘lost contest’.

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Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.