History has shown that presidents with spunk have used their power of dissolving the government effectively
Governors in government have a governing dilemma. Their jobs are defined but their qualifications are undefined. The same goes for presidents in this parliamentary system. To be qualified for these posts the main criteria seems to be to have a nondescript personality, to be mostly on mute on public issues and to be blatantly promoting party agendas. When questions are raised as to what exactly they do aside from inaugural addresses and signing off documents, the answer inevitably is that these are ceremonial posts. It is interesting to note how historically the British Empire ruled the subcontinent with its model of governor general who had the highest powers to govern. Lord Mountbatten and so many other names come to mind when we think of how the word governor meant the head of the state. In 1947, Pakistan became a dominion within the British Commonwealth with the British monarch as head of state, represented by the governor general of Pakistan. In 1956, Pakistan established its first Constitution and became a republic, and the positions of queen and governor general were replaced by the president.
Pakistan’s first president was Iskander Mirza who was also the last governor general. In 1958, he abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law. A few weeks later, he was overthrown in a bloodless coup d’état by General Ayub Khan, who then declared himself president. The Constitution was revised and the president became the ruler of Pakistan. The story of the Bhutto revolt against this political system, his win in 1970 and later revision in the Constitution to give more powers to the Prime Minister (PM) than the president, is fairly well known. The pattern of who pulled more strings depended on who came into power. Ziaul Haq and other dictators like Musharraf made constitutional amendments to make the presidential post all empowering, while democratic leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Benazir reverted the control lever back to the PM.
Though the president’s role was pretty much reduced to a figurehead, history has shown that presidents with spunk have used their power of dissolving the government effectively. President Ghulam Ishaque Khan dissolving Nawaz Sharif’s government and President Farooq Laghari dissolving Benazir’s government are examples of where the tables can be turned against the ruling party despite many constitutional amendments. Thus the moral of the story goes that it is less about the power of the laws and more about the power of the personality that will determine whether these ceremonial posts are taken just as political décor or actual political muscle. The recent example of President Zardari pulling the strings while PMs were made sacrificial lambs is a case in point. Thus, the personality cults defining the roles of president and governor is the story that unfortunately keeps on undermining all constitutional powers wrested in these positions. That is why these positions are supposed to be unbiased and neutral. As they do not represent a party but the federation, they inevitably end up being promoters of party or personal interests rather than national interests. The governor is appointed by the president and has the power of dissolving the provincial assembly or imposing governor’s rule as was done by the PPP government. Thus the choice of governors is by no means an accident and deliberately moulded to customise it to suit the purposes of the ruling party. The governor has to give his assent to all bills and budgets of the provincial assembly and, like the president, can promulgate ordinances for provinces in extraordinary circumstances. He is the chancellor of public universities and thus the most prominent place he is seen is on convocations awarding degrees to candidates.
The post of governor has become of prime interest in this country not because he will play a revolutionary role in transforming it but because it is access to a high luxury job where the lavish governor houses and rest houses present prestige and comforts unimaginable. Parties normally give such posts as a reward to party loyalists who are benign sponsors or loyalists of the party. The PML-N chose Chaudhry Sarwar as a reward for his services to the party overseas. However, Chaudhry Sarwar, bred on English politics, found it difficult to make it through entrenched party ranks and his stay in the rather ostentatious Governor House, unexciting. As he started speaking against this political imprisonment he became disqualified to continue. This time, the PML-N has taken its time now to come up with a more submissive version of loyalist in the name of Rafique Rajwana. On the other hand, the governor of Sindh is a classic case of being blatantly used for one thing: furthering Altaf Hussain/MQM interests. He is the evergreen governor whose presence ensures pressure on the federal government from Karachi. He has so far done a remarkable job by being this quiet behind the scenes, effective messenger of the MQM and PPP pacts. However, in the latest episode of resigning, removing and reinstating people, the MQM has now asked Ishratul Ibad to resign. The reason for the resignation is unabashedly his inability to protect party interests in the shape of not intervening to prevent arrests of workers who are themselves confessing heinous crimes.
Thus, the type of personality and the interest of the party governs the choice of people in these posts. Another twist to the story of choosing people for these high ceremonial posts is that they do not have a financial corruption record and are nice gentlemen. However, they have to be non-assertive, docile and willing to play the role of his master’s voice to perfection. President Mamnoon fits the bill well, though the jokingly quoted criterion of his knowing how to make dahi bhallas exactly as the PM likes added to his suitability.
Similarly, the new governor of Punjab is the type of man who would be a governor for a decade and still not make his presence felt. The choice of governors who represent the interests of the party rather than the interests of the province creates friction between the federal and provincial government. The smaller provinces like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have already started raising voice against deprivations and inequity. The federal representatives sitting in these provinces are treated as implants of the ruling party rather than stakeholders of provincial development. This creates within provinces a council of uncommon interests. Appointment to these posts are on the majority party’s decisions. However, if the provinces are consulted on various choices of the names under consideration, it would definitely save many precious hours and resources spent on trying to develop consensus on issues, issues that would never arise if an atmosphere of trust is restored between the federal and provincial governments.