His assertions to the contrary apart, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chair Asif Ali Zardari will not be a figurehead president if he is elected to the country's top job, a leading English newspaper said Monday.
Background interviews with important PPP leaders had established that Zardari, "arguably the strongest man now on the national scene after the bowing out of Pervez Musharraf, would like to retain and wield (the president's) sweeping powers", The News said.
A member of the federal cabinet, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the issue of retaining or striking down the controversial Article 58(2)b, which Musharraf had inserted in the constitution in 2004 to give himself all-encompassing powers, had not been discussed during the ongoing consultations between the PPP and the other alliance partners.
The clause gives the president powers to dismiss an elected government and to suspend parliament, as also to appoint service chiefs, provincial governors and the chief justices of the Supreme Court and the high court.
At the same time, the PPP would look afresh at the much-criticised 17th constitutional amendment that Musharraf had compelled the previous government to pass to legitimise his 1999 military coup and insert Article 58(2)b into the statute, the minister said.
"But one thing is certain, he (Zardari) will never become a president who will be just a symbolic head of the state," the minister maintained.
The PPP had on Saturday nominated Zardari as its candidate for the Sep 17 presidential election - to fill up the vacancy caused by Musharraf stepping down last week. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the other major coalition partner, has demanded that this be postponed till the Supreme Court and high court judges Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency last November be reinstated.
The issue has once again threatened to split the ruling coalition, with the PML-N Sunday staying away from the meeting to draft a parliamentary resolution on the judges' restoration.
Apart from the judges' issue, the PML-N has also demanded the immediate scrapping of the 17th amendment and by default, of Article 58(2)b.
PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, reiterated this point on Sunday, while reacting to Zardari's nomination for the presidency.
"It is the prerogative of the PPP to nominate its candidate for the office of the president if the 17th Amendment is scrapped," he maintained.
The PPP, however, fought back.
"PPP and Asif Ali Zardari will take up the pending legislative agenda, including the 17th amendment, after he becomes the president," Babar Awan, the party's central finance secretary and a close aide of Zardari, told The News when asked to react to Sharif's statement.