ISLAMABAD - Pakistan People’s Party wants the President of the country to become even ‘more symbolic and austere’ if this office is inevitable, senior party leaders suggested.

The previous day, PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari said the office of the President should be abolished as it was a burden on the national exchequer. “There is no need for 1,500-strong staff of the Presidency,” he contended.

Zardari, who himself remained the head of the state from 2008 to 2013, said in a television interview in New York that the parliament should be made more powerful.

Hinting at Muttahida Qaumi Movement dissident Mustafa Kamal’s call for a presidential form of government, he said, “People back presidential system without understanding it as there will be no power of the parliament in that system.”

Zardari’s comments came amid tension with the establishment. The PPP leader has been abroad since he made a controversial speech in June last year, warning Generals to stop victimising his party or he would expose their ‘misdeeds’.

Under the 18th amendment in the constitution, powers of President were largely transferred to the elected parliament and the Prime Minister reducing the head of the state to a figurehead. The President’s power to dissolve the Parliament unilaterally was also scrapped.

The dictatorial power to dissolve the Parliament was enacted by the eighth amendment to the constitution during General Mohammed Ziaul Haq’s regime, before it was removed by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif during his second term by the 13th Amendment. It was restored during Pervez Musharraf’s rule.

Despite being a figurehead, Zardari was known to take key decisions before they were implemented by the party’s Prime Minister.

Senior PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira told The Nation, Zardari and the party believed the staff of hundreds in the presidency was a burden on the national exchequer as the Prime Minister was the main person running the country.

“This point of view has logic. Why have hundreds and thousands of staff at the presidency when the President is just a figurehead. The PPP believes the PM and the parliament should be strong,” he added.

Kaira said if at all the President had to stay the expenses must be cut down to limit. “When we have a powerful PM and a powerful parliament we basically don’t need a President but in any case the expenses must be curtailed,” he maintained.

The PPP leader said the President’s office reminded of the past dictators who used this office to their advantage and perpetuate their rule.

“When we have a parliamentary system, we don’t need such an office. We can do without it. There is no point in spending millions on the presidential staff. However, if inevitable, we can cut expenses for the time being,” he said.

Another PPP leader Senator Taj Haider said the party was not against the office of the President but there was no need for extra spending.

“The head of the state should stay but even if Rs 10 are wasted, it amounts to wrongdoing. The expenses must be cut,” he remarked.

Haider said Zardari had himself been a President and is credited with giving the constitution a parliamentary look.

He said Zardari was the only President who happily gave away his powers to the elected representatives and the provinces.

“When giving away powers, he said the parliament must be powerful instead of the presidency. No one can take this credit from him,” the Senator said. The PPP leader said the head of the state was a symbol of the federation unless it contradicted the parliamentary image of the system.

“The PPP has itself been working for the parliamentary system and we have practically sponsored amendments in the constitution in this regard. The President can do a lot using his office but if it is meant only for expenses that doesn’t make any sense,” he explained.

Haider recalled when he was considered for the post of Sindh Governor, he had made a plan to use his office above politics and for the welfare of the general public.

“Likewise the office of the President can be used in many good ways. The President can be a bridge between the provinces and can placate annoyed nationalists for example. Zardari’s comments (to abolish the presidency) were in lighter vein,” he added.