ISLAMABAD - President Asif Ali Zardari will make history today (Saturday) by addressing the parliament for the fifth time – a rare achievement by a civilian head of state.
The president’s address to the parliament marks the beginning of a new parliamentary year. The head of the state, who is also the co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), will give an overview of the government’s achievements and performance, besides giving guidelines to the executive for further improvements.
This time the president will address the parliament amidst serious problems facing the PPP government and the country. Politically, the presidential address is taking place at a time when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has already been given a charge-sheet for committing contempt of court by not writing a letter to Swiss authorities for reopening corruption cases against Zardari. The adamant prime minister is willing to go behind bars, rather than obeying apex court’s orders and showing disloyalty towards his party’s co-chief.
Although the rift between the government and the military has narrowed, the probe into the memo scandal continues with the potential to bring the country’s civilian and military leaderships to a face-off. Against this backdrop, the president’s address will focus on the government’s four-year performance, and he is expected to discuss the government’s achievements in detail to respond to his opponents’ criticism of rampant corruption, economic instability, deteriorating law and order situation and the executive’s inability to provide relief to the common man. The president will also touch upon the country’s foreign policy in the current geo-strategic environment, particularly the relations with the United States and the neighbouring countries, including India, Afghanistan and Iran.
While the opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), had cooperated with the government in the past, and listened to the presidential address without resorting to bench-thumping and creating rowdy scenes, it may give the president a tough time today.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement on Friday announced that it would boycott the joint sitting of the parliament, but the decision was withdrawn later in the night after President Zardari telephoned MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London and assured him stern action against criminals and extortionists holding the provincial capital of Sindh hostage at gunpoint.