Pakistani President in troubled waters


LAHORE: The recent unearthing of a corruption scam involving the embattled Pakistani President Asif Zardari can eventually leave him with only two options – either to step down as a director of Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Limited or resign as the head of the state as keeping both the positions simultaneously is a violation of the country’s unanimously adopted 1973 Constitution.

President Zardari and his elder son Bilawal Bhjutto, who is also the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, have recently purchased 2,460 Kanals (307 acres) of prime land in Islamabad, worth over Rs 2 billion, for a mere throw away price of Rs 62 million. The land was purchased in March 2009 by a private company — Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Ltd, owned by Zardari and Bilawal. The Park Lane land is worth Rs 2 billion.

The unearthing of the scam has generated a heated debate across Pakistan, with the legal and constitutional experts maintaining that the president has violated the 1973 Constitution by keeping the position of director of a private company and the only way to rectify this violation was his removal from the coveted slot.
Pakistan’s former law minister and renowned lawyer S M Zafar said that if the president was holding the office of director of a company then the second half of Article 43(1) of the Constitution applies, which amounts to misconduct, which could only be rectified by the impeachment of the president.

According to a former judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice (retd) Wajhiuddin Ahmad, if the president was continuously violating the Constitution and if he could not be impeached for practical reasons, then the Supreme Court could take notice of the issue under Article 184(3) of the 1973 Constitution and could declare that the incumbent of the office of the president had forfeited the office. He said that the president not only cannot hold any office of director of a private company but also cannot hold the office like co-chairman of any political party. “The process of impeachment is well defined in the Constitution,” he said while adding: “Even if President Zardari surrenders the office of the director of a private company, even then the violation of the Constitution has happened.”

A former federal law minister of the Musharraf regime Khalid Ranjha was of the view that Asif Zardari was violating the Constitution and this could amount to his disqualification. He said that the president has to surrender one of his offices. Another former law minister of the Benazir Bhutto cabinet Syed Iqbal Haider was of the view that not only the president but even a provincial minister or a federal minister cannot hold any partnership or directorship of any private company. Therefore, he said, it is a clear violation of the 1973 Constitution. “The silence of Presidency and all of those associated with the Park Lane land scam, Pakistan State Oil scandal and Pakistan Steel Mills scandal is giving authenticity to the scandals,” said Syed Iqbal Haider, a former PPP leader from Sindh, adding that: “Otherwise it would amount to disqualification of the President.”

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