Is Zardari on the way out?

ISLAMABAD - Is Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the way out in the wake of the government’s capitulation on the lawyers’ demand for reinstating the Supreme Court and high court judges who were sacked in 2007?

Even if he stays, one thing is for sure: his reputation is in tatters and many of his powers could be taken away from the presidency and restored to the prime minister’s office.

This apart, analysts here point out that the threat to Zardari also comes from three other quarters. The first is the statesman-like stature Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has acquired with his handling of the crisis, from which he has actually emerged stronger at Zardari’s expense.

The second is Gilani’s improved equation with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who led the lawyers’ ‘long march’ for the restoration of the judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency Nov 3, 2007.

Gilani announced Monday that Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and the 60-odd judges of the apex and provincial courts would be reinstated, resulting in the ‘long march’ being called off.

Immediately, there were reports that Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML) could rejoin Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led federal coalition.

The PPP and the PML-N, along with two smaller parties had formed the coalition after they emerged the two biggest parties after the February 2008 general elections.

They had even agreed on a governance agenda, which included the restoration of the sacked judges and the repeal of the controversial 17th amendment Musharraf had pushed through in 2003 transferring key powers to the presidency from the prime minister’s office.

Zardari’s reneging on the promise prompted Sharif to pull the PML-N out of the coalition. Till now, the nine portfolios allotted to the PML-N have remained unfilled.

While the demand for repealing the amendment was on the lawyers’ agenda, it was not immediately addressed - but this could happen in the very near future, analysts here pointed.

Once the amendment is repealed, the powers to appoint the service chiefs and the chief justice and to dismiss the federal and provincial governments would be taken away from the presidency and restored to the prime minister’s office.

This would leave Zardari with only ceremonial powers.

The third, or rather fourth, threat to Zardari would come from the restored chief justice.

Given his judicial activism in the past, Chaudhury could well re-examine the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) Musharraf had promulgated in 2007 to facilitate the return from exile of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari by closing the corruption cases against them in this country.

Even if Chaudhury doesn’t walk the last mile on this immediately, the Sword of Damocles, as it were, would constantly be hanging over Zardari.

It was for this very reason that Zardari had been dragging his feet on the judges but the manner in which events have unfolded in Pakistan have shown that the president has driven himself into a corner from which he would find it very hard to extricate himself - if his own PPP and the people of Pakistan let him.


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