Time to act
IT has lingered uneasily in the background for years now: a highly politicised individual occupying the highest apolitical office in the land. And after years of staying in the background, the matter of President Zardari simultaneously serving as co-chairman of the PPP appears to be coming to a head in the Lahore High Court. The next hearing of the so-called ‘dual offices’ case is set for Feb 15 and perhaps it is time for Mr Zardari and the PPP to do some forward thinking. What worked in the uncertain and difficult days of 2008 does not necessarily make good democratic and institutional sense in 2013. This paper has in recent times suggested that President Zardari consider stepping down as co-chairman of the PPP and reject any party office while serving as the country’s president. Now, it is time to make that suggestion more emphatic: President Zardari should resign his party office immediately; it is the right thing to do from a national, democratic standpoint and it is time the awkward and unsustainable official dual role of Mr Zardari be brought to an end.
Why? For one, a general election is around the corner and formal campaigning about to begin. The PPP is a major contender in the upcoming elections and the whole point of having a neutral caretaker set-up is to minimise both the perception and the reality of political interference in the election cycle. The president has few formal powers left but perceptions do matter. Officially combining the presidential megaphone with the PPP platform during the campaign season would be a regressive step and would send a signal that narrow politics continue to triumph over broader democratic goals. Second, yet another crisis between the PPP and the superior judiciary at this juncture would create all manner of unneces-sary distractions and re-energise speculation about elections somehow being put off. Third, and a point interrelated to the previous one, there is a burden on the politicians to secure the democratic project and improve its quality: drag it into controversy, as the dual-office issue has, and unnecessary threats to the system linger.