Fight for superiority


Who will be Pakistan’s next top state organ?

Despite hints from the Supreme Court indicating its displeasure, the government has got the contempt bill passed in the National Assembly. The next step is to get it through the Senate so that it becomes law before July 12 when Raja Pervez Asharaf is to appear before the apex court. The government was in haste to ensure that the new PM is not prematurely removed. While the PPP leadership considers that the completion of its tenure is its constitutional right, it is also keen for an orderly transfer of power. The agreement on retired judge Fakhruddin G Ibrahim as a joint candidate for the post of CEC indicates the government’s keenness for holding honest elections.
The next step is the appointment of a caretaker setup. The government has apprehensions that the removal of the PM at this stage may cause problems. The executive cannot reduce or take away the powers of the Supreme Court to initiate contempt proceedings against any accused guaranteed under Article 204 of the Constitution. The new bill will only exempt holders of public office from the mischief of contempt in “exercise of powers and performance of functions” and allows for suspension of a sentence during the pendency of an appeal.
Will the new law save Pervez Ashraf’s job? The PPP maintains that if protection was not given to the elected representatives, they would not be able to perform their duties efficiently. While the majority in the NA supported the PPP, the PML(N) called it a black law that would provide the government a license for abusing its authority. The CJ holds that the constitution empowers the apex court to strike down any law which is in conflict with the Constitution. He has also suggested that the doctrine of the supremacy of parliament is out of step with the times.
The matter is, thus, bound to land up in the court. Like a number of other political cases, this too would consume the judges’ precious time while depriving the common man of timely justice. The apex court needs to review the situation in its entirety. A perception is being formed that after coming out of one sort of extreme where the executive dictated to the court the country is moving towards another extreme where the court dictates to both the executive and legislature. Unless measures are taken to remove the perception, there is a likelihood of the confrontation between the executive and legislature on one side and the court on the other continuing even after fresh elections. The court needs to consider if the situation strengthens or weakens the system.