February 02, 2008 Saturday Muharram 23, 1429

A powerful president

ACCORDING to the 1973 Constitution, the president is just a useless figurehead. Perhaps the words of the first president under this Constitution (Chaudhry Fazl Elahi) sum it up nicely: “No one responds even when I shout abusive words.” Gen Zia changed the whole character of the Constitution by introducing Article 58(b), which allows a president to sack the prime minister and dissolve the assemblies.But should an indirectly elected president have such sweeping powers? How can a corrupt or inefficient prime minister be got rid of? We have seen how the country suffered under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. People are helpless when they see that ministers are not interested in improving their lot at such a juncture, one sincerely wishes that there was some way of removing them from power and so, only a powerful president can do something. But in Pakistan, the president has no moral authority, since he is elected by the provincial assemblies and the senate. We should think of amending the Constitution so that the president is elected directly. A president elected directly would be a powerful person, and if he felt that the government was incapable of performing its functions, he could dismiss it or dissolve the assemblies. This seems to be the only answer to the present crisis.