Editorial - The empty pot - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=37622&Cat=8

Presidential speeches are rarely the stuff of political legend, and President Zardari’s address to the joint session of parliament yesterday was no exception. He read from a prepared text and spoke to a chamber that did not contain most of the members of the political opposition who, right up until the start of the session, were talking of disrupting the speech. In the end they voted with their feet and the PML-N, the Q-League the JI along with the MQM that just failed to show up for the show – were absent. The president spoke virtually without interruption other than by some enthusiastic desk-banging by his more loyal supporters. His less-loyal supporters looked at the ceiling or their papers while their fellows banged away merrily. Effectively, he was speaking to the party faithful and a mixed bag of dignitaries and observers. This may have been ‘historic’ in that it was his fourth address to parliament of this government, but the empty chairs and fractious intra-party relations speak of a system deeply divided.

What the president said amounted to little more than a reading of the shopping list, the items were ticked off as bullet points and policy was absent throughout other than in anodyne nods in the direction of foreign policy. It was not a speech of highs and lows, more a plateau of uniform mediocrity. The devolution of budgets to the provinces got an honourable mention – the failure to create the provincial capacity to effectively spend those budgets did not. The Benazir Income Support Programme was lauded as being our first national safety net – the tale though is marred by the incompetent administration of BISP. Any economists listening might have experienced a cardiac moment at the announcement that the economy was ‘back on track’. The politics of revenge were eschewed, murdered minorities mourned and the regulation pleas for political peace and harmony were duly delivered. When the president sat down he must have felt pleased that he had managed to get through the event without having anything thrown at him. Which is perhaps progress – of sorts. 

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