LAHORE - In the days to come Mr Asif Ali Zardari is poised to take oath as democratically elected President of Pakistan. Being the Co-Chairman of the ruling party and armed with the powers he has, thanks to the draconian 17th Amendment, he will be one of the most powerful civilian presidents in our parliamentary history. Apart from having the right to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the parliament under Article 58(2)b, he will have the power to appoint the Army Chief. Paradoxically despite the now stalled lawyers' movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice, rarely in our history has the president enjoyed such a pliant superior judiciary. Mr Zardari starts his presidency with a trust deficit. His credibility with his erstwhile coalition partners, the Sharifs, is an all-time low. All this can be partly explained away by years of media campaign and real or perceived persecution of Mr Zardari on different charges most of them handiwork of Mr Saifur Rehman, head of the so-called Accountability Bureau under the then premier Mian Nawaz Sharif. Mr Zardari's obvious handicap could also prove a window of opportunity for him. He can simply turn this into his biggest advantage by confounding his critics. This would require some out-of-box thinking which unfortunately has not been the hallmark of successive PPP regimes including the present one. There is no rocket science involved in fixing the ship of the State, which right now is rudderless, creaky and leaking, and if there was a measure of the feel good factor about the country it is at an all time low. Mr Zardari is faced with mutually exclusive goals. On the one hand, he and his party is committed to usher in the era of supremacy of parliament and an empowered prime minister and cabinet and, on the other, his party would look up to him for leadership and the personality cult being built around him leaves little room for devolution of political power. He owes it to his shaheed wife to democratise Pakistan and for that to happen the 17th Amendment has to go. In Pakistan's chequered political history concentrating power in one's hand has been the rule. Mr Zardari will have to prove to be the exception by divesting power to his handpicked prime minister. This would entail a working relationship with the mainstream opposition that happens to be PML-N at present. If the present rot is not stemmed the confrontation between the PPP and the PML-N will metamorphose into a full-scale confrontation between the Punjab and the Centre a la the nineties It takes two to tango and unfortunately there are elements in both the parties who are stoking the fires of confrontation for their own nefarious ends. Fortunately both Mian Nawaz and Mr Zardari have pledged to avoid this outcome. Mr Zardari cannot be solely blamed for the impasse as Mian Nawaz and his advisers are not entirely blameless. However being the president he will have to extend the olive branch to the Sharifs who after being bitten by the about face on the issue of restoration of judiciary feel cheated and used. It is futile to try to bring both the parties back into the coalition as they have such a long history of confrontation spanned over almost two decades that even as short-lived coalition partners they were never on the same page. A working relationship based on the principle of live and let live needs to be evolved. This could translate into a stable PPP government at the centre and a PML-N dominated government in Punjab. Apart from this the rest of the unfinished agenda under the Charter of Democracy could be mutually implemented. This could include more provincial autonomy, civilian control over the armed forces and an independent judiciary with or without Justice Chaudhry. Mr Zardari urgently needs to set his own house in order. Right now the PPP government looks bad. Governance has never been the hallmark of the PPP but the present optics are so bad that everyone is feeling the pinch of the rapid meltdown of the economy resulting in hyperinflation. In order to bolster the economy there is a need to restore business confidence which is an all time low. Poor law and order situation and incremental acts of terrorism in the cities have made matters worse. Apart from empowering the prime minister there is urgent need to bring a cabinet of excellence. The present lot does not infuse confidence in the running of the government. Most appointments in different key posts in the bureaucracy and on the diplomatic front are based on cronyism rather than competence. Hence the need to bring transparency not only in the running of the government, but also in appointments to key positions and in financial deals as well. In order to succeed Mr Zardari will have to outgrow his present image of being Mr know all. History is replete with example of leaders who were well meaning but failed solely because they were not willing to adopt an inclusive, humble and transparent style of governance. In this regard a low key but firm style of governance can be more effective. Traditionally our successive leaders, with the exception of a few have relied too heavily on American largesse and support. A lot of goodies are in the pipeline including direct US assistance, World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans as well as Saudi oil on deferred payment basis for services rendered by Islamabad for the war on terror. This might bail out our falling rupee and sagging stock exchange in the short and medium run. But at the end of the day a government has to deliver to its own people to whom it is answerable in the ultimate analysis. The US forces-led allied troops' direct attack in Pakistan's territory is an outrage and Islamabad's weak-kneed response makes matters worse. How does the PPP government effectively deal with the situation begs an answer from Mr Zardari. In order to banish extra constitutional interventions from our polity forever, building democratic institutions and instilling a democratic culture is the only answer. If Mr Zardari does not read the writing on the wall and smell the coffee he will go the same way as his predecessor. Or it could be even worse.