Bangladesh model » By Najam Sethi

As expected, the Supreme Court has sent PM Yousaf Raza Gillani packing. As expected, too, the decision has been hailed and decried by the opposition and government respectively. But independent opinion at home and abroad is uniformly critical of the court’s unprecedented political activism that has relentlessly targeted the PPP – the decision has been variously described as a judicial “soft-coup“, “vendetta-judgment” and “political victimization“.

Certainly, some of the SC’s recent judgments have dampened our enthusiasm for its “populism”. In the contempt case against Mr Gilani, for example, the 7-member court which convicted him with a 30 second punishment did not expressly disqualify him in its detailed judgment on April 26th, yet a 3-member bench did so summarily in a short order on 19th June on the basis of a highly dubious clause of the constitution which has never been used before according to which Mr Gilani has been deemed not to be a good Muslim or Amin! It is significant that the two petitioners in the case were PMLN and PTI leaders and the SC blithely entertained and adjudged their prayers directly instead of forwarding them to the election commission as expressly ordained by the constitution.

Earlier, the SC’s approach in the case of Arsalan Chaudhry, son of the Chief Justice, had raised many sober eyebrows. The CJ took suo motu note of it, chaired a two judge bench, put a copy of the Holy Quran on his desk and declared that justice would be done in an Islamic fashion a la Hazrat Umar, disregarding the very code of conduct for judges that he had personally helped to formulate in 2009 in which a judge may not sit in judgment in matters such as the one before him. Then he gagged the media and accuser, hauling up both for contempt. No less disquieting was his decision not to set up a neutral commission of inquiry of either the bar or bench as demanded by many, instead passing the buck to the controversial Attorney General, a clear deviation from his decision to set up a judicial commission to investigate Memogate. Under the circumstances, if the AG’s Joint Investigation Team comprising the FIA and NAB holds against Arsalan Chaudhry and or the CJP and his family, it will be denounced as a vindictive attempt by the government to hurt the CJP and SC. The decision against the PM comes on the heels of the Arsalan case and has swiftly diverted public attention from it. What next?

The PPP will elect a new PM in the next week or so. The new PM will be promptly summoned to the SC and ordered to write a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to reopen the money laundering case against President Zardari. The PM will refuse, as did Mr Gilani. Therefore he will be summarily declared a bad Muslim, convicted for contempt and disqualified from being a member of parliament. The President may opt to elect another PM and set him up for the same fate, until the democracy-disgracing game is finally folded in favour of general elections. That is when the end-game will be revealed for what it is worth.

The 20th constitutional amendment lays down the procedure for making neutral interim governments at the centre and in the provinces to conduct general elections via a process of consultation and approval between the regime and opposition. If there is no agreement, the Chief Election Commissioner becomes the sole determinant of the selection and installation of such governments. Since the government and opposition have not so far agreed on a CEC, and an agreement is not likely to be forthcoming in time, the Election Commission is presided over by an Acting CEC, Justice Shakirullah Jan, a serving SC judge appointed by the CJP. This means that the next interim government will be chosen directly by the CEC and indirectly by the CJP. If at some stage in the run up to the elections, such a technocratic interim government were to apply to the SC for an extension of its tenure and postponement of elections for one reason or another – economic crisis, accountability of politicians to weed out corruption, foreign policy/national security crisis – the stage will be set for the “judicial coup” that critics have feared for some time now.

Analysts have focused on the possibility of a clash between the SC and government, followed by street agitation led by the opposition, which could provoke the military to intervene. But the PPP’s decision to avoid a confrontation has now raised the spectre of a populist political intervention by the SC “to set Pakistan right”. This could be a replay of the notorious “Bangladesh” model of some years ago when the BD SC decided to bypass the mainstream parties and “clean up” the country via an interim government answerable to it. But that “experiment” set Bangladesh back many years when the mainstream parties bounced back with a bang after renewed instability and violence.

Courtesy: The Friday Times

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