Another victory for democracy in Pakistan
A defeat for pro-judicial activism right-wing partiesby Shafqat Munir
BY WINNING a neck and neck contest with a lead of 4,000-plus votes for the national assembly constituency in Multan in southern Punjab, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidate Abdul Qadir Gilani has staged another victory for democracy, though tough and endangered by a pro-establishment judicial activism, similar to Egypt. Both in Pakistan and now in Egypt, the Supreme Courts are seen undermining the elected parliaments under the garb of judicial oversight and review powers. In Egypt, the Supreme Court has sent home an elected parliament immediately after its elections and even defied the newly-elected president’s orders of restoring parliament.
The Supreme Court in Pakistan, which is in an activism mode, is seen to continue undermining the parliament’s power of amending or making the constitution and adopting new legislations under the cover of two ‘lethal’ powers: the power to review everything under the sun, suo moto actions, and the power to punish under the contempt of court. By invoking these two ‘lethal’ jurisdictions and becoming ‘judges of their own cause’, the smaller bench of the Supreme Court, in contrast to the spirit of a larger bench decision, has sent elected Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani home on charges of contempt of court.
The Supreme Court judges, whom the liberal, democratic and progressive people of Pakistan see as the supporters of the Nawaz Sharif led opposition party, and as two top judges leading the ongoing judicial activism in Pakistan, are close relatives of the Muslim League Nawaz stalwarts and subscribers to rightist ideology. They are also famous for siding and giving relief to military dictators, and took oath under Musharraf’s new Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). They further gave relief to the Sharif brothers as Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, is running his provincial government in Punjab, thanks to the courts. The Sharif brothers also have money-laundering cases against them and are charged with evidence showing that they got money from ISI to defeat Benazir Bhutto in the then elections. But their cases did not come up even once for court proceedings. However, the people believe that the democratic government and the prime minister, who were disqualified and sent home by the judges of the Supreme Court, are the ones on whose behalf the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani gave release orders for the judges who were under house arrest by General Musharraf. The prime minister‘s order for release of the judges from the house arrest was his defiance against General Musharraf’s orders of the arrest.
Interestingly, the judges of the Supreme Court who validated the coup of General Musharraf, took oath under his controversial PCO, and later gave Musharraf the judicial authority to amend constitution as per his needs and wishes, an opportunity which Musharraf used to change the very dynamics of the parliamentary form of government to more of a presidential form of government, in turn consolidating all powers in the country in gross violations of the Constitution of Pakistan made by the Parliament. This gross damage to the constitution was done because the Supreme Court gave a dictator such as Gen. Musharraf all powers to amend the constitution, usurping their power of review which was unconstitutional.
The judges and Gen. Musharraf should have been tried for committing treason under Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan for damaging the constitution in this manner. Unfortunately, the same Supreme Court is grabbing power, not through parliament or constitution but through its own decisions from time to time and in the name of judicial oversight and review. They allowed a dictator to amend the Constitution but they object the parliament when it plays its role in making laws and amending the Constitution. They have sent a democratically elected prime minister home on charges of contempt of court, whereas they did not even pass a ruling or judgment against Gen. Musharraf when he arrested over 60 judges and their families, violating the sanctity of the Supreme Court. With the Supreme Court’s double standards, today the democratic people of Pakistan are of the view that the Court has always been siding with dictators and giving them validity for their misconduct towards the country in terms of coups and mutilation of the Constitution through PCOs and other ordinances. All the right-wing parties who are supporting judicial activism have either worked with dictators or are shaped by them in one way or the other. So, now the judiciary is fast becoming controversial and unfortunately, the opposition right-wing is using the judiciary for their political interests.
Now the Supreme Court has set another date, 25th July 2012, which people fear might result in the Court sending another elected prime minister home without granting the people the right to vote out any party or leader who did not serve them or are involved in corruption. Pakistan’s establishment is also blamed for pitching judiciary against the elected government and the parliament, while they hide behind the doors and play their cards using the shoulders of the judges. The people of Pakistan are not fools, and they immediately made their decision and voted for Abdul Qadir Gilani to show their anger towards the unprofessional act of sending the former prime minister home. In clear disagreement with the Supreme Court regarding this issue, the former prime minister’s home constituency returned his son Abdul Qadir Gilani as a successor and sent him to the Parliament.
Interestingly, all key right-wing opposition parties, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif and Tehrik-e-Insaf of Imran Khan, who have been siding with the Supreme Court’s decision of disqualifying the former prime minister, joined hands together to defeat the former prime minister in his constituency. But the people of this constituency have defeated the unholy alliance as Imran Khan and Sharif speak against each other and pledge not to join hands at any cost except for this constituency, where they tried their luck by supporting a joint candidate. Jamaat-e-Islami manoeuvred this unholy alliance as it wished for the right-wing alliance to be united otherwise, as they cannot stop another victory for the democratic, liberal and progressive parties in the country. The first test of the right-wing alliance did not work in Multan with the elections on the seat vacated by the disqualification of the former prime minister. Let us see how they perform in the forthcoming elections.
This victory is the decision of the court of the people, since the voters judge politicians for their political deeds. The voters in Multan have defeated all big right-wing political parties in opposition who were openly siding with the ongoing judicial activism. So the people still decided to go for a Gilani (Abdul Qadir Gilani), whose father was disqualified on the charge of contempt of court, which is a charge equal to 'judging their own cause by judiciary'. History will not tell what Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League or Imran Khan of Tehrik-e-Insaf or Munawwar Hassan of Jamaat-e-Islami and their paid media outlets are telling the people of Pakistan today. History will say that when Yousuf Raza Gilani was charged with contempt of court, the same day the people elected a PPP ‘jiyala’, a hardcore party worker who did not even have money to contest election on a Punjab Assembly seat, in Multan and that now again the people have elected Gilani's son as a quick response to his disqualification. This shows that a politician's disqualification only counts if their voters reject them and ideally cannot be done through judicial activism.
Shafqat Munir is a policy analyst based in Islamabad.
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