Though the two PML factions are going through the motions, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari seems set to be elected president. The MQM had chosen him at a time when the PML-N had not yet chosen Mr Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui as its candidate. But despite Mr Justice Siddiqui’s ethnic origins, the MQM’s parliamentarians, both national and provincial, know who they are to vote for.
The MQM provides just one example of the presidential election having far-reaching effects on politics. But by far the most important effect was the final break between the PPP and the PML-N in the centre, and possibly in the Punjab, where it has only been delayed by the PML-Q not having made up its mind which party to join in forming the new government.
The PPP set itself a conundrum when it was decided that Zardari would be the party candidate for the presidency. It deprived itself of a head, apparently without a substitute. The tradition is that a president or governor does not hold even basic membership within a political party. And it is the PPP itself which set this example, with two secretary-generals, Tikka Khan when he became Punjab Governor, and Farooq Leghari when he became President of Pakistan.
Both chose to resign not just from party office, but also from the basic membership of the party. It may be remembered that when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became President of Pakistan, he remained chairman of the party. Paradoxically, that applies to an executive presidency, as that was, at the time Yahya Khan handed it over, to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who retained the executive nature under the 1972 Interim Constitution.
When Bhutto and later his daughter Benazir, became executive prime ministers, they retained the party office of chairman. Co-Chairman in the latter’s case. Indeed, she took over the full-fledged chairmanship while PM. Yousuf Raza Gilani is not a Bhutto, but has been made PM, and had no party office to give up at the time of his elevation, except that of ticket-holder.
As that is not a formal office, or even acknowledged as an office except in parties which have been defeated like the PML-Q, Gilani only had his basic membership to give up, which he did not. Indeed, he has attended party CEC meetings, to which membership depends on the chairman’s invitation.
So president-elect Zardari will either have to shoot down the national tradition, maintained by all so far except Ayub before Bhutto, and none after, of a national president, or the party tradition of holding party office along with government office. Ayub was President of Pakistan when he also became president of the PML. His secretary-generals included Bhutto and Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, father of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and uncle and father-in-law of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Chaudhry Zahoor was a strong Bhutto opponent, and his murder by Al-Zulfikar still stands against any alliance by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, and thus of the PML-Q, with the PPP.
Apparently, with the exit of Pervez Musharraf from the political scene, the PML-Q, which was his political vehicle, has been left without any purpose, so its members want to go into the PML-N. It should be remembered that the PML-Q is the Army party, and its members are dedicated to the holding of office, whether themselves or to make sure that someone else does.
Membership is related to the military through the agencies, which have been brought under the Interior Division, except for Military Intelligence, which continues to be under the COAS, and which thus continues to control the PML-Q.
Unlike the Chaudhrys, its members cannot enjoy being party chiefs, and would like to make it into power once again. As far as they can be said to have an ideological preference, they would prefer the PML-N to the PPP, because the PML-N may, like the PPP, have concluded that the military must be excluded from national politics, but it is a recent decision, and there are enough still in the party who regard the military as the saviours of Pakistan
The PML-Q is mainly those from the PML-N who chose the new military dispensation, who realised that the Zia era was finally over. Many of those who are in the PML-N are there because they were placed there by the Zia-era military, and the rest because the PML-N is a party of power into which they found the way the easiest.
In short, the PML-N was the first experiment in which the military tried to raise a party. The PPP experiment failed, as the party took on a life of its own, but the PPP is also a party of power, and Asif Zardari’s ascent to the presidency reflects this.
Zardari has had to face opposition to his becoming president, down to the appearance of the report of his lunacy appearing in the English press, which he submitted to a court. If he admits these certificates, he will be saying that he is one of those who escape hearings through false certificates. If he denies them, he will inevitably drag in the putative issuer. He already faces queries about his wife’s death, which have not been asked. Be that as it may, Benazir’s head of security has been murdered, just like at least one judge in a case against him, as well as a policeman in the Murtaza murder, of which Asif stood accused.
If the PPP has picked Asif Zardari, a criminal accused, the PML-N picked a former Supreme Court chief justice. The PML-N previously picked a retired Supreme Court judge in Rafiq Tarar, but he had shown a bent for politics by having previously become a senator.
Chief Justice Siddiqui has shown no such inclination. It was not even known that he belonged to the PML-N until he became its forlorn candidate. Equally destined to lose is Mushahid Hussain of the PML-Q, though he at least is neither Chaudhry Shujaat nor Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who were expected to be candidates for the office in line with their tradition of monopolising party opportunities. But Mushahid is not going to gain more than the line in his bio-data about having contested the office. Luckily, he is no Kamil Ali Agha, whom the Chaudhrys could have put forward.
Source: The Nation, 29/8/2008