LAHORE - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be the happiest person when his handpicked Mamnoon Hussain enters the presidency on September 9, after the departure of Mr Asif Ali Zardari.

To have him elevated to the country’s top office, Mr Sharif ignored people like Sartaj Aziz, Ghous Ali Shah and Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, all from smaller provinces who were far more suitable for the job than the man chosen by the lawmakers on Tuesday.

Since the president has already been stripped of important powers under the 18th amendment, Mr Hussain will be just a figurehead. Therefore, there will, apparently, be no possibility of any clash between the head of state and the head of government.

But to make the relationship cordial, the president-elect should keep in mind that Mr Sharif doesn’t like any person more powerful than him. In the past, presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Ahmed Leghari were more powerful than the prime minister, as a result of which there was confrontation between the two top offices.

Ghulam Ishaq and Mr Sharif had to step down simultaneously in 1993 under an agreement brokered by then army chief Gen Waheed Kakar. And in 1998, Mr Leghari had to vacate the presidency when the army supported Mr Sharif in the clash between the two.

If Mr Hussain follows in the footsteps of two former presidents Chaudhry Fazal Elahi and Rafiq Tarar in unquestioning compliance of the prime minister’s wishes he would have excellent relations with him.

Chaudhry Fazal Elahi was president when Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prime minister. The distribution of powers between them was as it is today. He invariably regarded Mr Bhutto as his boss, although the position in the constitution was just the opposite. He was always very careful while dealing with him so that the ‘boss’ is not annoyed.

Once Mr Bhutto was returning home from a foreign visit that Chaudhry Fazal Elahi asked his staff to get ready to receive the prime minister at the airport. When he was told that the presidents don’t receive the prime ministers, the leader from Gujrat said: “Dekhna, marva na dena” (Better be sure).

Though his motorcade did not proceed to the airport, the president was nervous, not knowing whether he had been rightly told by the protocol people that he was not supposed to receive the prime minister.

President Rafiq Tarar was still more careful about the sensitivities of the Sharifs. When Gen Musharraf toppled the PML-N government on October 12, 1999, Tarar sent a special messenger to seek instructions from the deposed premier’s father Mian Muhammad Sharif about his future line of action. “What’s the order for me?” asked the messenger on behalf of Mr Tarar.

According to a published interview of Mr Tarar, Mian Sharif told the messenger that the president should stay in the office as all others had left them.

In fact, Mr Tarar was more loyal to the Sharifs than to the constitution.

If Mr Mamnoon Hussain stays as loyal to the prime minister as the two above-mentioned presidents were to their ‘bosses’, the relationship between them will be long lasting. But if he faltered, it would not last long. Opposition parties would also join hands with the ruling PML-N to ensure his impeachment, the constitutional way of dislodging the head of state.

The president-elect will be doing a favour to himself by not questioning any move made by the prime minister. The rhetoric that the government would make no compromise on merit is just for public consumption – and shouldn’t be taken very seriously.

A report in a daily appearing on the day of the presidential election would make the point clearer: The inspector general of Punjab Police is seeking to recruit 14 constables who could serve, in a private capacity, as chief minister’s security staff.

“On the directions of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, the IG has sent a summary to the Home Department asking for recruitment rules on age and qualifications criteria be relaxed to allow the induction of the 14 men,” the report quoted an official at the IG’s office as saying on the condition of anonymity.

“The summary dated July 10 states that the constables would be deployed with the chief minister. The inductions would also require a relaxation of the Contract Policy 2004.

“In its comments on the summary, the Home Department stated that recruitment rules should be observed. The proper recruitment method would be to advertise the posts in the press to invite applications from eligible candidates. The advertisement would detail recruitment criteria like age, academic qualifications and physical measurements.”

The entire news item has not been reproduced here as the idea was just to tell you how much merit is being observed by the Punjab rulers.

Under the Constitution, the president has to go by the prime minister’s advice. He will have to sign anything forwarded to him by the prime minister. He has no veto power on anything.

Good governments do give importance to the president’s opinion. But whether the PML-N government will fall in that category will be clearer when the president-elect has a personal experience of dealing with it.

When Mr Muhammad Khan Junejo was the prime minister, he sent a summary for the appointment of some officials to President Zia.

Gen Zia returned the summary with some objections against some of the officials. Mr Junejo asked his law minister (Wasim Sajjad) who was competent to take a final decision. He was told that the prime minister was the final authority. Still, Mr Junejo said if the head of state gives opinion on any issue, it should be respected. Gen Zia’s opinion was given importance. But neither Mamnoon is Gen Zia nor is Sharif a Junejo.