Presidential address


WEB DESK: The annual ritual of President’s address to a joint session of Parliament at the start of the new parliamentary year proved to be yet another unremarkable event.

President Mamnoon Hussain mostly recounted the government claims of successes, such as that electricity generation has increased providing relief to the people; and gave an overview of current foreign policy issue and concern. That he squandered away an opportunity to assail – through his address to a joint sitting of parliament – the US for committing violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by carrying out a drone strike in Balochistan is a fact.

Moreover, a bit different was his suggestion that a working group of impartial and non-political ulema and social scientists should be formed to analyse the causes of extremism and recommend a counter-terrorism narrative to eradicate the menace of extremism.

Although he began his speech by praising the government as well as the opposition for strengthening democracy, at one point he almost touched a no-go area for a president who, as a symbol of the federation, needs to stay out of partisan politics. In what appeared to be a defence of the government against the opposition’s demands for inquiry into the Panama leaks allegations against the Prime Minister’s family, he said “neither the opposition nor any other group has the right to unlawfully impose its will on the elected government.” The speech was interrupted by some opposition members hackling with chants of “Panama, Panama.”

This is not the first instance of unruly behaviour on the part of legislators during the President’s speech. Some of his all-powerful predecessors had to face even more noisy interruptions. However, unlike them, President Hussain neither heads a major political party nor holds constitutional power to dismiss elected governments.

As ceremonial head of the state he is not responsible for government policies, and is not to blame for what he said or did not say since the speech is written by the Prime Minister’s office. It is worthwhile to note that his counterparts in other countries, like the Queen in the UK and the president in India, similarly deliver speeches prepared by their respective prime ministers, and the legislators are expected to listen with due deference.

Any disrespect can invite punishment. But their speeches are focused only on outlining future government policies. Which keeps them above controversy and also gets people interested in what they have to say. The president’s office needs to be accorded the dignity it deserves.

For that to happen he must remain above partisan politics. It would therefore be in the fitness of things if his mandatory address to Parliament is restricted only to the government’s future plans so that the legislators and others have something tangible to talk and think about rather than criticising the president for offering defence of government’s contentious actions and policies or side-stepping issues of current relevance. -Business Recorder