When institutions lose breadth of vision
The locking of the horns between the PPP government and the Supreme Court should induce all stakeholders in the system to do some soul searching. As things .stand, the PPP is adamant not to write the required letter to the Swiss authorities. The SC is bent upon getting the NRO verdict implemented in this one case.
The PPP maintains that there is no ambiguity about the exemption providing immunity to the president from court proceedings as long as he retains the office. According to it, since the exemption clause in the constitution is clear and self explanatory, there is no need for any interpretation by the Supreme Court. The judges maintain that the exemption is not automatic but has to be claimed in the court. For the common man, this is an abstruse polemic.
One elected prime minister has been removed by the court in a novel way unknown in a parliamentary democracy. Another one is on the way out. The clash of the institutions continues to generate uncertainty and forebodings about a possible derailing of the system.
Possible scenarios about an imminent external intervention are already being widely discussed. According to one of these, a constitutional crisis would be imminent in case prime ministers continued to be removed one after the other. This would be followed by applications in the court to appoint a caretaker setup for holding the elections. The caretakers might decide to prolong their tenure on the excuse that they are required to remove a lot of muck created by the former government. The prolongation of the tussle will help none of the three pillars of the state: the executive, parliament or the SC.
It was for the first time that an elected government had succeeded in presenting five budgets before the National Assembly. It is another matter that none of the exercises had brought any cheer to the common man. The government claims that it had brought back the 1973 constitution which had been beaten out of shape by successive military rulers to its original parliamentary form. The parliament however failed to remove some of the anti democratic provisions introduced in the constitution by Zia-ul-Haq. The government takes pride in allocating more resources to the provinces and expanding the scope of provincial autonomy. Despite the claims, Balochistan continues to be run by the agencies rather than the provincial government.
The reforms have meanwhile left the masses cold, and rightly so. The government has miserably failed to improve the lot of the common man which has continued to deteriorate year after year under the present administration. The poverty line is expanding, there is a steady rise in the number of the unemployed and despite government claims inflation runs in double digits.
The reforms are of course important and could over time strengthen the system provided it survives the ongoing confrontation. Whether it does so, depends on the apex court, the government and the opposition.
The stakeholders have to realise that there would be few mourners if the system collapses on account of their confrontation. Once it transpires it will lie in the grave for, maybe, another decade or so.
No PPP prime minister is likely to allow what the party calls “ the trial of BB’s grave” which translated into simple language means no letter to the Swiss authorities to probe if Benazir and Zardari kept any ill gotten millions in Swiss banks.
The party is unwilling to hold an early election. It intends to complete its tenure to the very last day.
The new contempt law passed post haste extends the exemption to the prime minister also while simultaneously prolonging the procedure for punishing a contemner. The PPP leadership knows that unlike other institutions the apex court moves according to the legal procedure and this would provide more time to the PM to retain his office.
The PPP plans to nominate one prime minister after another defying the court orders. It has to realise that it cannot afford to sacrifice some of its best bets in the forthcoming elections who would stand debarred for five years once sentenced by the court.
How long will the SC continue to sack one chief executive after another without creating a perception that it is after the PPP’s scalp? Would the repeated action not give birth to instability?
The opposition too needs to ponder over the consequences of the ongoing standoff. It has been a practice with the opposition to take cases that should better be resolved politically to the apex court. Instead of effectively using the platform of the NA to expose the administration, it was considered easier to approach the court for action against the government. The opposition approached the SC the way it did the agencies or the army in 1990s with the aim of getting rid of the government.
It is time for all to reconsider the respective courses they have taken. The best way would be for the government and opposition to reach an agreement on the caretaker setup and announce a firm date for the elections, preferably in winter. After this has been done, the court should let the PPP be ousted in election than turned into a hero through a coup de main.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.