Muhammad Rafiq Tarar elected as President [1997]

Muhammad Rafiq Tarar

Muhammad Rafiq Tarar a former Judge of the Supreme Court and a Senator was elected as the ninth President of Pakistan and took oath to his office on January 1,1998.

The office of President had become vacant due to a serious constitutional crisis prevailing in the country in December of 1997.The crisis resulted due to insurmountable differences between the President, Prime Minister and the Judiciary. This crisis ended with the resignation of President Legahri on December 2, 1997. His resignation cut short the normal term of the office of President from five year by nearly one year thus clearing the way for Mr. Nawaz Sharif to go down in history as the strongest ever premier who successfully ousted two Presidents, an Army Chief and a Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The Pakistan Muslim League had a two-thirds majority in the parliament and some provincial assemblies and therefore was in a position to have its candidate elected as the head of state. The Nawaz government nominated Muhammad Rafiq Tarar, a 68 year former Judge of the Supreme Court and a Senator as their presidential candidate. The nomination of Muhammad Rafiq Tarar was however criticized by the opposition parties and newspapers because the nominated President was from the Punjab province, which was also the home province of the Prime Minister. It was felt by many that since the Prime Minister was from Punjab, the President should be from a smaller province to prevent the possibility of a sense of deprivation among the smaller federating units and to avoid the concentration of the main government offices in one province. The election of the President was held on December 31, 1997.

The President was to be indirectly elected by the two houses of Parliament -- the National Assembly and the Senate -- and the four provincial governments. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ruling party Pakistan Muslim League dominated most of the six voting groups, Mr. Tarar was elected President comfortably by securing 374 out of 457 votes of the Electoral College. His rivals – PPP’s Aftab Shahban Mirani and JUI’s Maulana Muhammad Khan Shirani -- ended up only with 31 and 22 votes, respectively. No one before President Rafiq Tarar received such overwhelming support from the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan.

Unlike the former presidents, Rafiq Tarar was a very unassuming, low profile and ceremonial President who remained loyal to the governments in power. He delivered in parliament only those speeches, which were provided to him by the government and also kept away from the press. Immediately after taking over, he declared that from now on the presidency would not work in conspiring against the elected government. He said he would confine himself to powers available to him under the Constitution and would not aspire for anything more. He honored his word and remained loyal to his political benefactors, the Sharif’s even after their ouster on October 12, 1999. Making a departure from the precedent set by his predecessors, he never criticized any government policy.

After the overthrow of the Nawaz government, the military authorities retained Mr.Tarar as President, mainly to show to the outside world that since an elected President was in place and since the assemblies had not been dissolved, the new system could not be regarded as martial law. The President term was till December 31, 2002 but he was however removed by Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf who him self took over the office of President of Pakistan on June 20, 2001.

Muhammad Rafiq Tarar was not a politician of standing nor had been a distinguished Judge. The office of President being a symbol of state should have gone to someone well acquainted with statesmanship. Despite this President Tarar was noted for his honesty, loyalty, devotion to justice and a firm personal religious faith. Coming from a relatively humble background, he was the first elected President to have made it to the top.