The election of the unheralded 73-year-old Mamnoon Hussain as the 12th president of Pakistan has been marked by much rancour and controversy over the process.
For the uninitiated, such acrimony over a presidential election whose results were a foregone conclusion given the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)'s dominance in the parliament must have come as a surprise.
It is a fact that the arithmetic was always loaded in the PML-N's favour, but strange are the ways of the ruling elite in Pakistan indeed. Where they can even easily sail home, more often than not, they choose to browbeat the opposition — sledgehammer-style — to hit the goalpost. And now there may be consequences for a hasty step that was decidedly ill-advised.
The presidential elections were originally scheduled for September 6, but controversially brought forward a week not by the Election Commission of Pakistan, whose duty and legal domain it is, but by the Supreme Court of Pakistan following a plea from the Centre! The ruling party wanted the exercise taken beforehand because the electoral college — made up of the two houses of national parliament and four provincial legislatures — would likely have been short of approximately hundred members either on account of the still awaited bye-elections or simply members absenting themselves in the third quarter of Ramadan on account of religious obligations.
The last mentioned was the official reason cited in the petition filed by PML-N. Media reports however, suggest the real reason was that the ruling party just wanted a glittering tally and, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would have been in Saudi Arabia on a personal visit during the originally scheduled date.
Regardless, the Supreme Court, which has become a major power stakeholder since the reinstatement of its current top adjudicator — thanks in no small part to a popular movement led by the current prime minister (the-then opposition leader) five years ago — showed remarkable alacrity in swiftly hearing and granting the government its wish.
The apex court's controversial ruling reinforced the long-standing perception that it is biased in favour of Sharif and his party — a contrast that sits uncomfortably with its obvious hostility towards the Pakistan People's Party, the last ruling party, which then, boycotted the presidential election along with its allies under protest.
Save for the ruling PML-N, the court's apparently one-sided judgement unsettled almost everyone which was only made more conspicuous with the judges not even holding out a pretence for a word from anyone in the other camp — there was no dearth of dissenting voices with even Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the only party which eventually contested against the PML-N, also doing so only under protest.
Far from feeling remorse at the reaction, the apex court instead summoned the PTI chief for remarks it felt constituted contempt for suggesting the court along with Returning Officers had muddied the electoral exercise last May by overlooking what it alleged was massive rigging meant to pave the way for PML-N to come into power! The consequences of the move — both the apparent greed getting the better of the ruling party and the court's embarrassing endorsement — are already evident.
Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, the first chief election commissioner, who came to head the premier election body after a historic parliamentary consensus, has resigned over the Supreme Court's "attack on the independence of the Election Commission."
To return to the presidential election, legion of commentators have been making light of Prime Minister Sharif's choice of a docile textile businessman, whose first name literally, translates into "grateful".
The expectation is that he would remain a loyalist without ambition even though, to be sure, the office is now only titular in nature following the exit-to-be of PPP's Asif Zardari, who despite voluntarily handing over powers to the prime minister under the 18th amendment to the constitution remained a powerful decision-maker thanks to his vice-like grip of the party as co-chairman along with his son.
To be fair to Sharif, he has only taken a decision on every other power wielding chief executive before him has — in his previous terms, the Presidency became a den of conspiracies, eventually forcing him out. Tellingly, however, the last time not even getting a similarly docile Rafiq Tarrar elected as president with a heavy mandate could save the day for Sharif, although it could be argued that he may have been himself guilty of tempting fate by sacking his handpicked but powerful army chief in midair following the Kargil debacle!
Having said that, the appointment of Mamnoon Hussain may not exactly be a bad idea — the controversy still hangs over only tactics here — given the chequered past track record of gullible men on Pakistan's equivalent of the Capitol Hill drawn into adventure with a nod and a wink from the powerful security establishment. Also, the fact that Pakistan has changed considerably in the last decade in its transition to stable democracy may help the country eventually welcome a quiet presidency. Even though Zardari's case was different, it is about time the real chief executive according to the constitution is not only in charge, but also genuinely held accountable.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.