“We also hang our PMs”

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And find inventive ways to do so…

The no-holds-barred confrontation between the executive and the higher judiciary has finally taken its toll on the polity. The clash of institutions is now head-on. Despite dissensions amongst its ranks, the ruling coalition has finally amended the contempt of court law in unholy haste.

Clearly anticipating what was in the offing, the Chief justice of Pakistan has already given his verdict. According to him, since the constitution of the country is superior to the legislature, the parliament is not supreme. The CJP while addressing lawyers the other day has reiterated the right of the Supreme Court to strike down any law it considers ultra vires of the constitution.

Justice Iftikhar in the same speech at the Sindh High Court has expounded a novel theory according to which Pakistani laws were not a continuum of the British system and the arguments made by lawyers (in Pakistani courts) have become the ideology of the future.

It is obvious that the fragile democratic system has entered a dangerous phase. A majority of the seventeen judges of the Supreme Court are developing an ideological halo. Their judgments – spiced with poetry and anecdotes – have assumed the mantle of being the final arbiters of matters legal and political.

In our chequered history, usurpers like General Zia-ul-Haq and General Musharraf during their long rules had developed a messiah complex. Inventing hybrid models like ‘Islamic democracy’ followed much later by ‘true democracy’, these dictators took refuge behind self-styled ideological frameworks to perpetuate their interests. Of course, the higher judiciary of the time readily legitimised their shenanigans.

Till now, the PPP-led coalition had shown remarkable restraint in the face of a highly proactive and at times restrictive judiciary. However, it seems the sacking of Prime Minister Gilani and now the sword of Damocles hanging over his successor has proved to be the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the lawyer of former prime minister Gilani in the contempt case, has expressed his reservations about the new contempt law. Declaring it discriminatory and in clash with fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, he has rightly predicted that it will be struck down by the apex court.

Aitzaz, interestingly enough, has previously made the argument that Gilani was charged for contempt under one clause and wrongly convicted under another. Implying real or perceived bias on the part of the judges, Aitzaz was of the view that his client had not committed contempt of court by refusing to write the elusive letter against Zardari to the Swiss authorities.

Whether the new contempt law will save the incumbent Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf from being axed by the apex court is a moot point. Nevertheless, the higher judiciary should not be in the business of sacking prime ministers. Nor the executive should put it in a position where it is forced to do so.

Elected prime ministers should be voted out by the electorate or, in the case of real or perceived misconduct, under the procedure laid out in the constitution. Previously, presidents in cahoots with meddlesome army chiefs sacked both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto twice over. Also, most legal and political circles consider Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s conviction by the higher judiciary at the behest of a military strongman a ‘judicial murder’.

In the present scenario, all the parties would do well to understand that discretion is the better part of valour. The apex court needs to temper its hyper-activism with a judicious use of judicial restraint.

On the other hand, the executive should curb its newfound enthusiasm to curb the judiciary. No matter which way one looks at it, ultimately in this clash of institutions, the democratic system will be the obvious casualty.

Senator Mushahid Hussain, the general secretary of PML (Q) – a major coalition partner in the ruling alliance, has also opposed the passage of the new law. He thinks that tinkering with the media and the judiciary is a recipe for disaster.

The worthy senator should know better. After all, he was the information minister when Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, heady with his ‘heavy mandate’, took on both the media and the judiciary – albeit with mixed results. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20; Shah sahib now firmly believes that this led to the premature demise of the Nawaz regime. He is spot on.

The PPP legal eagles have probably calculated that by steamrolling a faulty and controversial law through the parliament, they have bought time for the new prime minister. Perhaps a better strategy and a sure shot way of salvaging the system would have been to go for relatively early elections. The PPP should try to evolve a consensus on this single point rather than parroting the mantra of completing its term, come what may.

Going by the law of averages, the present government has done better than its predecessors by surviving political landmines for more than four years. With a little more than six months left of its remaining term, it has already entered the twilight zone. Hence to initiate consultations for an appropriate and practical timetable for holding of general elections and the formation of a caretaker setup for the purpose is the easiest way out.

In the meanwhile, the higher judiciary – instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and, in the process, taking the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water -should exercise restraint. If the PPP is not willing to write to the Swiss authorities, let it face the music at the hustings. The party meeting its fate at the hands of electorate would be better than the apex court being opened to the serious charge of engaging in a witch-hunt.

Back in April 1979, when Zia hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the London Economist ran a cover story titled “We also hang our prime ministers”, with the dictator’s picture on the title. Elected prime ministers being sacked by coupsters was passé in our hapless republic. But sacking elected prime ministers and scuttling democracy in the process is a distinction the independent judiciary could do without.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today

23 COMMENTS

  1. Sir, it is a pleasure to read and after reading it, the corollary to me is that, most of the Pakistanis are in death throes of unemployment, inflation and corrupt PPP practices. They could not care less if the GOP goes now or later. In sixty-five years, they are seeing a Supreme Court that is standing its ground and taking on the GOP.
    If democracy is an important 'modus vivendi and 'modus operandi,' then the courts are free to judge and the persons holding the strings of power have to be decisively select. What we are seeing in Pakistan today is a 'kleptocracy' or 'shambolicracy.' All that has gone on is an exchange of words and financial scandals. Where is the benefit to the common person? Does he matter? Yes. If he does not matter then Pakistan ceases to exist, as we are witnessing inside and on the borders. These elitist parties do not matter. All the time for years on end, the word 'education' has been ignored. Is the present lot educated? Are the present lot connected to the average person or the man without a face? No sir. Frankly, there are too many political parties and too many paradoxes in our political practice. The only consistency is in the coalition of Sindh. Nevertheless, is it hog-tied?
    If a clean or near clean political and economic system is required, the time is sincerely now. The situation on the borders and within is commanding it. If the forces fail in correcting it, then one can expect a Syrian situation or worse still a slow and painful withering away. Try imagining it.
    The political parties are unimportant, the common person is. Pray I am wrong.
    Salams to Pakistan, Pakistan Today and the faceless man.

    • baseless and flimsy arguements. Do u think judicial over-activism can resolve unemployment, loadshedding, economic crisis and corruption when it could not eliminate corruption from itself. It is spreading anarchy. It is better if a liberal general takes over instead of jihadi court

      • There is NO LAW in the country… This country has failed and only serving interests of the elite class + Generals

  2. @ Nazir K Ali is right on dot. It is time our elected PM should start serving the people, follow democratic norms and ethics, instead of acting like monarchs with divine right to immunity. This government had the best of opportunity, even better than BB or NS had during their two terms of interrupted tenures each. Yet what have they delivered. Name one thing other than legislation for self preservation or protection. If only the electricity generation had not worsened, law and order improved, or our exports risen, state corporations not gone bust, this government would have not been so unpopoular. In a Democracy, Power Comes with Responsibility, unlike in a Dictatorship, where the individual matters more than the people.

    • Why dont u let him serve the people? Why ur favourite courts put all the govt on hook by sue motos and overactivism. Why courts suffering from messiha complex. Common man knows how much corruption is there in judiciary. How can they resolve peoples problems. All day they waste on political cases. As a result of court activism govt functioning is at a standstill and foreign investors r shy of fresh investments becoz nobody knows what the courts will do. System has gone chaotic.

  3. In this case it is a dead infected foetus that needs to be thrown alongwith bath water. The sooner the better.

  4. Who is listening? In Pakistan, sound advices fall on deaf years nor do we learn/want to learn from history. The egos are are stake; neither CJP/SC nor the rulers are open to reason, rationale and compromise.

  5. If the judiciary was not rationale, restraint or tolerant…it cud hv declared this govt as illegal when it was confirmed that 3.5 million votes in 2008 election was fake…..so, by what account this govt is legal ? the credit for continuation goes to the judiciary who thought it wise to give this new baby to nurture & grow for the benefit of the system`s stability…but when the baby turns out to be monster, it has to be reigned in….people are upset bcz they did not expected such an assertive judiciary who were blamed in the past for their support of dictators. Unless we follow rules & law & problems are discussed for solutions in the parliament , why wud people approach judiciary…bcz they think judiciary as the last resort.

    Nazir KAli…you cud not be more specific , fair & straight forward…thank you.If only, we hv more such open minds……

    • those votes were not faked. Most of those votes had wrong addresses or particulars. So dont say 35 million votes were faked. Some information in the list about voters was wrong. Do not exaggerate .

      • Whether you agree or not…those 35 million votes hv been excluded from the count….chk the reasons of disqualification of these 35 million voter from ECP website….& what do you mean by exagerration ? these numbers are official & accepted by NADRA / ECP.again chk NADRA / ECP website before accusing anybody…it has become culture in Pakistan to negate first without confirmation…..

  6. We also make "convicted and criminals" as presidents, PM, interior minsiters and governors. This is a workd record in the history of nations

  7. " we also eleviate convicted & criminals to Top positions like presidents, PM, Governors, etc in the name of democracy"

  8. Sorry,how can a govt deliver. when from the 1st day hurdles are created.Every word spoken any plan introduced is rejected without even listening to it.There is clear leaning against the present setup.Sure time will come when people will speak and understand truth as now everybody understands Bhutto's hanging
    .Everybody has seen the fate of Maulvi Mushtaq's dead body.

  9. Agreeing with the author, i would say the government should leave bharya mela and declare the holding of fresh elections forthwith. It is the right time to quit. Had ZAB decided on holding fresh elections in response to PNA demand, may be he would have been amongst us even now! What a great loss comparing the present lot of politicians.

    • Plz look into the comments of the PNA leaders especially several interviews of Prof.Ghafur Ahmed of JI. Bhutto has agreed to go for election2 days before Martial Law..

  10. Our Prime Ministers also FLOUT/DISOBEY the highest court of the land – the Supreme Court, while claiming to be "the Ghous Pak Ke Aulaad"!

  11. Agree with Nazir K Ali & TAM—This is like still born baby that threatens the mother's life, which in this case is democracy, and needs to be aborted without any delay.

  12. THE FINAL-ULTIMATE CASUALTY IS THE POOR,FIXED INCOME GROUPS,PENSIONERS FROM PRIVATE SECTOR.FOR YO9U ALL IN MEDIA,POLITICS,IT IS FUN WRITING,DIGGING YOUR ANALYSIS UNMINDFUL OF HAVOC THAT THIS GOVERNMENT HAS BROUGHT TO THEM.WILL JUDICIARY DISQUALIFY THE SADER WHO HAS BROUGHT US TO THIS IMPASSE

  13. Not Correct! We not only Hang our PMs but also assassinate them! However, they must belong a smaller province preferably should be from the PPP!

  14. Laurels to Mr Nizami for a balanced article.
    Pakistan needs and it has a right to have independent Judiciary but for God's sake do not give us vindictive Judiciary.Perhaps the governmnt has already been warned by the sacking of anelected Prime Minister and that should end there as the electios are round the corner.Govrnment in its lunacy has rushed through the Parliament an unsavoury bill to become a law.What a cat use game.Let us give chance to democracy than Dictatorship.In the end let people decide who they bring in next and if the same people are elected then grin and bear it.The most important aspect of nation building is education which would evetually weed out villains.

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