By: Junaid Qaiser
Pakistan is known for its weak political institutions, powerful army, several military coups and the infamous Article 58(2)-(B) that was used to send elected prime ministers to home or jail.
But this time around we are seeing a slightly different technique when the three member bench of the Supreme Court declared Yousuf Raza Gilani disqualified from holding a seat in the parliament from the date of his conviction on April 26 by a seven-member bench for contempt of court. A prime minister, who enjoyed confidence of the Parliament, who even before taking the oath of office, ordered release of the judges sacked and detained by former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf and later reinstated all the deposed judges on 16th March 2009 through an executive order. Many renowned experts as well as common person termed the ouster of elected PM similar to a judicial coup.
The Twitterities are using the hashtag #JudicialCoup to explain a new (invented)mechanism to oust an elected government.
The judges’ restoration movement, has been wrongly termed by many as a new beginning for Pakistan, as it’s not only failed to create and develop space for civilian supremacy, but also emerged a main hurdle in democratic evolution. And, today, we are more concerned than ever about the political instability. International media and observers place Pakistan in the category of countries, where parliament is continuously under sieges.
Pakistan’s judiciary has a very controversial history, which had never opposed, even the unconstitutional actions of the military dictators. The frequent imposition of martial laws, abrogation and suspension of constitutions were acts of treason under the law but were frequently validated by our apex courts.
In Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan versus the Federation of Pakistan, Justice Munir declared that the Assembly was not a sovereign body. He gave the ruling that the Constitutional Assembly had “lived in a fool’s paradise if it was ever seized with the notion that it was the sovereign body of the state”. The wording may be slightly different but the mindset remain the same, when the present Chief Justice said that the concept of parliament’s sovereignty was ages old so it was not so it was not applicable now. Historians feel that Justice Munir destroyed Pakistan’s constitutional basis when he denied the existence of Assembly’s sovereignty, and further harmed it by not indicating where sovereignty resided. It is quite obvious that historians will also judge the serious consequences of the present role of the judiciary for parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.
The observation by Justice Munir in Dosso versus the Federation of Pakistan, that a successful coup is a legal method of changing a constitution, sets the basis for the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, General Ayub Khan, to takeover the government from Iskandar Mirza. Ironically, the military takeover by General Ayub Khan on October 27, 1958, took place one day after the decision of the court was announced. By November 10, 1977, a nine-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, headed by Chief Justice Sheikh Anwarul Haq, unanimously validated the imposition of martial law under the ‘doctrine of necessity’. The judgment provided cover to the unconstitutional act of General Ziaul Haq and even gave him authority to make changes in the constitution. And in the Zafar Ali Shah case, the Supreme Court had granted three years to General Musharraf to hold elections and amend the Constitution and, in turn, General Musharraf gave three-year extension in service to the then incumbent judges.