Islamabad- For the first time during the last six years President Zardari sounded like a powerless traditional head of State who didn’t want to indulge in any controversy and wrapped up his address to the joint sitting of Parliament in a shortest possible time. No extempore rhetoric, he contained himself strictly to the script of his written speech, hopefully not vetted by the new premier’s men. It must have been a painful journey for a pre-election powerful President to become a post-election powerless ceremonial head of state. His sixth in a row and perhaps last address to this parliament as President was naturally cautious and reconciliatory towards the incumbent government. Surprise inclusion was a clear mention of Nawaz Sharif’s Saudi exile as a ‘political struggle against dictatorship’. Up till now, he and cronies would always laugh it out as a cowardice move of the then deposed premier to save his skin. Then he went on to buck up the new premier, hoping Sharif would come up to the expectations of the masses. This is what he could not accomplish even in hey days. 

All these years and till the 2013 elections, Zardari and his handpicked premiers, tried to play up the constitutional amendments of the 13th National Assembly and Parliament as a real gift for the democracy-starved people of this country. But the electricity and food-starved voters wanted to see some concrete measures to improve governance and development. As of now, he is de-facto head of a defeated political party enjoying presidential immunity in high profile pending cases in country’s apex courts. Zardari knows he has to face the music as soon as September ends. Politically, the road ahead is treacherous. Being blamed squarely for failed policies of the last PPP government, he knows the onus of a lucky yet uphill turnaround lies on his shoulders. With these thoughts in mind a shrewd politician in him could offer - apart from the cautious mention of general election result dispute - a formula political feature film. Something for everyone present in the hall. But there were almost no buyers. The treasury wanted a smooth sailing, at least till September when he leaves the Presidential compound. Till then, give and take policy - not as equal partners - can be mutually beneficial. A swift Presidential approval on the appointment of new Attorney General, and expected nods on appointment of new governors etc is name of the game. Appointment of a new accountability body head can become the ultimate test of this seemingly artificial working relationship. In return, the President is to pass all his remaining term of three months, hassle-free. A Public Accounts Committee headed by PPP is not a big ask. But this is a minimum common agenda for Charter of Democracy signatories. Rest are not interested. At least, their body language and gestures spoke volumes of the way they feel for the PPP de-facto head.

Almost all his former political allies and foes, scattered across the treasury-opposition divide in this parliament were equally cautious. A few beneficiaries apart, many of these political leaders were perhaps victim of his political moves during the last months and years. Ask Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The two parties have a long history of love-hate relationship with PPP, especially under Zardari. Exhausted of options, Maulana now wants to play ball with the ruling PML-N. Same is the case with MQM. Around 7-8 years of hobnobbing with Musharraf led regime and then the last five with PPP, popularity wise, it finds itself in a tight corner.

PML-Q leaders Ch Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi having faced an election rout recently, still trying to find a political umbrella, seem settled under Imran Khan, perhaps for the time being. Proud coalition partners of PPP and Zardari in 2011-12, they don’t want an action replay of the yesteryears. For Baloch and Pashtun nationalists, Zardari played the traditional role of a President. Nothing more. They claim he was not forthcoming in finding an amicable solution to the lingering Balochistan crisis. On his part, Zardari claimed recently, Balochs were not serious enough. All this is behind their backs now. He was a different man during the last five addresses when he kept on enjoying the status of de-facto head of government and the party - a real power house - with authority to pick and choose the ministers and prime ministers of the country.

Those days are no more. Monday was a different day as President Zardari entered the National Assembly Hall. He could exchange pleasantries with only a few of his party men tucked on opposition rows as only they rose from their seats to honour ‘their leader’ just liked good old days. PPP legislators had the sole responsibility to thump the desks, the ruling party only approved of something in its favour, and that too in a lukewarm style. Even when Sharif thumped desk occasionally, his Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan was not interested. The egoist man of Potohar, his associates claim, has still not digested bitterness of the last five years. Generally, rest of the opposition parties were quite, unmoved - PTI, JUI and even MQM.

It was not the warmest of reception he received as he entered the National Assembly hall and sat just right to the Speaker. And he knew it well. It was all formality, and luckily everything went smooth.

Nothing doing, even when Deputy Chairman Senate Sabir Baloch seated amongst the PML-N legislators, in the second row behind the premier, did his best. He could only draw awkward gaze from Mian Sahib’s able ministers, as he rose up and thumped desks with his bare hands, in a less parliamentary and more public meeting style.

As he sat to the right hand side of the Speaker, Zardari was seemingly a relieved man. As he put down a water glass he had galloped a minute back, he exchanged meaningful smiles with the PPP legislators who gestured in gratification. The smile said it all.