A sinking presidency: Dawn Editorial
Dawn, 04 Nov, 2009
There is no point in pulling punches or glossing over the latest setback to the Zardari presidency. The fiasco over the NRO has weakened the president’s political position further and at the moment there is no evidence that Mr Zardari and his team of advisers have what it takes to recover lost ground, let alone build a successful presidency from the shambles it has been reduced to.
It is quite extraordinary that in the space of a year and a half, the PPP has gone from facing a parliament in which its candidate for prime minister was elected unanimously to becoming an isolated and increasingly battered party. The blame for this must be laid primarily at the president’s door, for his style of politics has proved to be incredibly tone-deaf and the president appears to be blind to the ebb and flow of politics in the country.
Not quite eight months ago, Mr Zardari finally had to yield on the restoration of the deposed judges in the face of a lawyers’ long march that was turbocharged by the PML-N’s participation. If any lessons were learned from that humiliating experience, if the president understands that politics is the art of the possible, not pressing for the impossible, the handling of the NRO’s abortive passage through parliament has proved otherwise.
Where does the president go from here? It’s difficult to imagine anywhere but down unless the president fundamentally overhauls his approach to politics and governance. After the NRO debacle, every political party will be able to smell blood. The smaller parties inside the governing coalition will be more aware than ever that the PPP, which lacks a majority in parliament, can be bullied into submission. The opposition, meanwhile, will be elated at the president’s continuing proclivity for self-inflicted political wounds that can be readily exploited. Within the PPP, the ‘consensus’ prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, is looking increasingly good in comparison to the president and it doesn’t appear that the prime minister is particularly worried that he may be showing up his party boss.
Given the lay of the political land, the only thing that comes to mind that the president could do to improve his position immediately is the very thing he appears deeply reluctant to do: give up his superior powers vis-à-vis the prime minister and parliament. But smart politics, forget shoring up the transition to democracy, does not appear to be part of Mr Zardari’s agenda. By restoring the judges and scrapping the NRO, the president has shown he can do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options.
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