Saturday March 17, 2012, was a historical day for Pakistan as Pakistan’s democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari delivered his fifth Presidential address to the joint-sitting of the parliament. With cheering from his allies and supporters and cries of protest from his political opponents, Mr. Zardari became the first President in Pakistan’s history to see the day of his fifth Presidential address, as all previous democratically elected Presidents were sent packing by the country’s powerful and politically active anti-democratic forces before seeing the start of their final parliamentary year.
Since he stepped up to presidency in 2008, Mr. Zardari has been Pakistan’s most talked about president—both by his supporters and allies who regard him as a leader of extraordinary courage and by his opponents who have been accusing him of corruption. To Mr. Zardari’s credit are such historical constitutional reforms as the 18th Amendment whereby he has stripped the President of Pakistan of the constitutional authority to dissolve the elected government (parliament) any time—thus putting an end to the much abused right of the President to topple a democratic government overnight by a single announcement. Provisional autonomy to Pakistan’s federating units and decentralization of power as well as providing over 3 million poor people regular financial support from the government’s funds are other of his landmark contributions to the nation.
Though some domestic media sources have been busy in making him a controversial figure, internationally, Mr. Zardari has carved a positive image. He and his political team have remained unflinching partners in the war on terror. His was a also key role in starting to bring Pakistan closer to the neighboring states in the region, including India, which was recently declared in his government as the most favored nation for trade.
But leading democracy was not easy all these years. Since day one, his political opponents kept preparing the stage for toppling his government. The main opposition party PML-N led a number of protests as attempted movements to make Mr. Zardari leave the presidency. He was accused heavily of corruption—in old money-laundering cases that were admittedly opened against him and his spouse, Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto (late), for politically handicapping their party. From character assassination bouts on private media in the country to full-force litigation via the Supreme Court, virtually no stone was left unturned in attempting to capture Mr. Zardari and shove him out of the Presidency via some quasi-justifiable route. But all conspiracies against the President fell flat one after the other.
On Saturday when Mr. Zaradrai stood at the podium addressing the parliament and recounting the achievements of his government in the past 4 years, the political opponents were having a tough time watching this leader achieving what no other could before him—symbolizing the victory of democracy against military rule and anti-democratic machinations. The opposition members tried to make a noise in the parliament to embarrass the President. But Mr. Zardari remained unfazed and his supporters cheered at his words of assurance about the democratic government. In some parts of the country, the public celebrated the 5th address of the President as victory for democracy.
In face of criticism and conspiracies, the current President of Pakistan is leading the nation forward, steering skillfully the boat of democracy against the whirlpools of legal and political challenges created for ousting him before his government completes its constitutional term next year. His 5th Presidential address symbolizes hope for this terror-plagued land where military dictatorship and bad governance have long been the norm. But that seems almost left behind now. It’s a new beginning for Pakistan – a democratic victory with a democratic President.