When is the full coup? – by Mazhar Arif

The decision is being seen as the ‘decision by the Punjabi court’. The disqualification was celebrated and sweets were distributed only in Punjab

At last, the judicial coup!

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has finally been toppled. By whom? By the opposition parties with the support of ‘independent’ judiciary or by the ‘Supreme Judicial Party’ with the facilitation of opposition parties which challenged the National Assembly Speaker’s ruling through petitions? This is still under discussion. Some people say the court had the blessing of the army to do the task which the army itself could not do, though it has much experience of the sort, because of perhaps unfavourable strategic and geo-political conditions.

Others, however, are of the opinion that the apex court is a crucial part of the Pakistani establishment, which hardly believes in the supremacy of the parliament, and the verdict is outcome of its own loyalty towards the ideology of the state and the establishment. In this regard, they quote a recent observation made by Mr. Justice Jawad S Khwaja while hearing the contempt of court case against Mr. Gilani. Justice Khwaja remarked: “the judiciary was an independent organ of the state and was answerable to the people not the parliament.” This is, however, not clear how the judges are answerable to the people when they are not elected by them. People hardly know how and by whom they are chosen, selected and nominated.

The disqualification of the prime minister by the apex court is under criticism by a part of the lawyers’ community and a section of the media. The Express Tribune in its editorial under the headline “A Judicial Coup?” on June 20 says, “The Supreme Court, in claiming to represent the will of the people, has removed from power the people’s representative saying that he stood disqualified from being a member of parliament and hence the office of the prime minister since April 26 — the day he was found guilty of contempt. Support for the decision may not be unanimous mainly because of recent developments, especially where the Honourable Court was dragged into the Arsalan Iftikhar matter

The procedure to remove a prime minister from office is clear: he can be voted out by parliament or the speaker of the National Assembly can send a reference to the Election Commission. So the view, that with this verdict, the apex court has played the role of judiciary, legislature and executive, may find some takers… The passage of almost two months since that verdict and Tuesday’s decision may well give ammunition to some people who may claim that the Honourable Court is perhaps trying to deflect attention from the Arsalan Iftikhar case. Furthermore, there will be people, and not entirely from within the PPP, who may consider whether yesterday’s verdict is, in effect, a judicial coup.”

The Daily Times headlined its editorial as “Virtual judicial coup” which reads as “…Since then, the impression has been unmistakable that the SC has tilted more against the incumbent PPP than in any other direction, even resorting to picking and choosing which cases to hear on a priority or fast track basis. This has invited criticism of the judiciary for alleged bias. True or not, such criticism may well find a fresh lease of life after the SC, in an unprecedented verdict, has deposed a sitting PM. Such ‘treatment’ at the hands of the judiciary is likely to resurrect the party’s memory of past injustices at the hands of the judiciary, the most poignant example being the case of Z A Bhutto. This verdict will have legal as well as political implications. Whether our nascent democratic system will survive these fresh storms can only be left to the imagination at this point.”

The DAWN is more critical in its editorial “PM’s disqualification”. It laments, “In disqualifying a sitting, democratically elected prime minister, the Supreme Court has taken an extraordinary — and unfortunate — step. This whole story could have played out very differently, in ways much less disruptive to the nascent democracy this country is trying to build, if the SC had steered clear of a course of action that has now brought the judiciary, parliament and the executive in direct confrontation with each other.

At a number of junctures the court could have avoided pursuing the contempt of court case as doggedly as it did, especially considering that the larger issue — corruption — was a matter involving the president, not the prime minister. Legally there might have been a case against the prime minister, but it was best for the supreme judiciary not to have waded so deep into such obviously political waters…Even if the outcome had ultimately been the same, at least the court would not have taken on the role of directly disqualifying an elected prime minister. By doing so, it has both disrupted an existing democratic set-up and set a worrying precedent for the future.”

The option of ‘judicial coup’ to bring down the PPP-led coalition government was being harped on by the rightist pro-establishment media since long. Keeping in view the court’s anti-PPP inclination and, at the moment, the army’s ‘inability’ to take over, the possibility of such a coup against a democratically elected government was certainly not just a ‘conspiracy theory’ or mere speculation. Now, it is obvious this option was a part of the scheme. The Supreme Court kept the government crippled on postings/transfers of government functionaries. It took action against the president and the prime minister through NRO case, put a federal minister behind the bars in so-called Haj scam, ambassador to the USA, Hussain Haqqani, was dragged in memo-scandal, national assembly’s membership of Haqqani’s wife and senate’s membership of the interior minister, Rehman Malik, was suspended beside a number of contempt of court cases initiated against other PPP leaders.

The Supreme Court verdict has not only destabilized the government and threatened the nascent democratic process it has fanned the flames of ethnic prejudices yet again. The decision is being seen as the ‘decision by the Punjabi court’. The disqualification was celebrated and sweets were distributed only in Punjab. Contrary to this, the chief minister of Balochistan, soon after the verdict, announced that Mr. Gilani would be accorded the prime minister’s protocol when he would visit the province.

The Supreme Court refused to give any importance to the National Assembly’s resolution endorsing the Speaker’s ruling which is in fact a disrespect for the parliament and an indication what steps the court may take in future. It was easy for the khaki dictators and their henchmen in civvies to sack an elected government and dissolve the parliament under infamous Article 58 (2) (B). Now, this article has been removed from the constitution. The judicial coup has paved the way for dissolution of the parliament by the Supreme Court if need arises. The apex court has the monopoly over interpretation of the constitution and the law. It is re-writing the constitution by usurping the prerogative of the parliament. If parliament ever challenged the supreme power of the court, it can also be dissolved. Let us see when the Supreme Court will dissolve the parliament.

Mazhar Arif is a senior journalist, media critic, researcher, writer and people’s rights activist presently working as Executive Director, Society for Alternative Media and Research (SAMAR), an organization seeking space for voices of the voiceless in the media and engaged with promoting media literacy to enable readers, viewers and listeners to understand and analyze media contents.

Courtesy: ViewPoint


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