Zardari boxed in after chief justice reinstated

March 16th, 2009 - 11:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Benazir Bhutto Islamabad, March 16 (DPA) The reinstatement of the Pakistan’s sacked Supreme Court chief justice is a healthy sign for the fragile democracy but a bad omen for President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, analysts said Monday.
Pakistan’s judiciary, under the reinstated and independent-minded Iftikhar Chaudhry, plus re-energised opposition parties with massive street power, are expected to curtail Zardari’s tendency to amass powers and run the country by himself.

“He is definitely cornered and probably he is going to remain there,” said a political analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

Zardari had resisted reinstating Chaudhry and his colleagues after taking office last year for fear that the defiant judge might renew corruption charges against him.

And he remained defiant last week when opposition groups led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s influential legal community launched a cross-country rally dubbed the “Long March” from southern Pakistan to the capital Islamabad.

But Zardari caved in when Sharif left the eastern city of Lahore in a massive rally and headed for Islamabad. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in an early morning televised address Monday, announced that all judges, including Chaudhry, would be allowed to return to office March 21.

The announcement came after Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pressed Zardari for a deal with Sharif to avoid a major political showdown in Islamabad which could threaten the country’s stability, media reports said.

Defying a ban on public gatherings and a week-long crackdown on opposition workers, tens of thousands of people thronged the streets in Lahore, removing roadblocks and forcing riot police to flee, as they made their way to the city.

“He failed to understand what the people were thinking,” said Rasool Bux Raees, a political analyst and a professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

“The image Mr Zardari has now is of a leader who stands against the public, at least in Punjab where more than 60 percent of the population lives,” Raees said.

“He was under false impression that by just amassing power he would be able to control everything and did not realize that you have to take people along,” he added.

Zardari was not particularly popular when he took office in September 2008, after his wife was assassinated at a political rally in December 2007.

He was labelled “Mr 10 Percent”, a reference to allegations of receiving kickbacks on government contracts during his wife’s two stints as prime minister in the 1990s.

He had spent 11 years behind bars on corruption charges, which he dismissed as “politically motivated”.

Zadari’s popularity further plunged when he reneged on promises of reinstating the judges, and giving up the controversial presidential powers that Musharraf had accumulated through constitutional amendments during his nine-year military dictatorship.

Two ministers from his party recently resigned from the cabinet as a protest against his policies, while a couple of senior party leaders have publicly criticised his policies.

Media reports have been rife with speculation about widening rift between Zardari and Gilani, who reportedly wants the president to reconcile with the opposition.

“Even the restoration of judges would not improve Zardari’s standing because the public will give credit to Sharif, who took a bold stance on the issue of judges and succeeded,” said retired general Talat Masood.

According to Masood, miscalculations have now placed Zardari in a position where on the one hand he faces an opposition leader who is more respected by the public than he is.

On the other, Chaudhry, who is known for his judicial activism and neutrality, will keep a check on him.

“In such a situation Zardari will have to accept a considerable cut in his control over the state affairs. He will have to set certain limits for himself. He might not be used to restrictions given his nature but he doesn’t have any other choice,” said Masood.

This can be generally very healthy for democracy, said Raees. “A democratic set-up functions well when power is properly distributed in various state actors and institutions,” he added.

Despite the current political defeat Zardari has no shortage of friends. Washington and other western countries still consider him as reliable ally in the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants launching cross border attacks on US-led international forces in Afghanistan.

“Whatever Zaradri’s popularity level, the west prefers him to Sharif who is known abroad for his close ties with the Islamic religious parties. Americans would like to see him in power in the coming years no matter what,” said Raees.

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