Back in parliament

October 16, 2019

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THE formula has been reasserted. The Islamabad High Court’s call to parliament to come to a decision regarding the appointment of two members to the Election Commission of Pakistan has underscored the guiding principle on the resolution of political questions. The ruling came on Monday, with Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah letting the government know that the route it adopted on the matter was unconstitutional. He was hearing petitions against the federal government’s move to appoint new ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan via an order by President Arif Alvi. Justice Minallah refused to entertain a request by the government to stall the case until the Supreme Court gave its judgement on the matter.

A member each from Sindh and Balochistan retired from the ECP earlier this year. The process of finding their replacements was to begin with the convening of a consultative meeting between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. The two leaders of the respective camps were supposed to send three names they agreed upon to a parliamentary committee for further action, or, failing that, three names each of their choice. But there was no consensus on a candidate. The controversy came to a head in August when the government notified the appointment of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui and Munir Ahmed Kakar as the two new ECP members. Bearing nomination from President Arif Alvi, the two men arrived at the ECP offices, only to be spurned by the chief election commissioner who termed their appointment unconstitutional. The Islamabad High Court has now ruled that the ECP is too vital an institution to stay suspended. This means that while parliament’s right has been respected, the lawmakers are in their turn expected to resolve the affair without wasting any more time. Justice Minallah reposed his faith in the “august house” in an act that will hopefully boost confidence in the abilities of the elected legislators.

This is an essential reminder for introspection in a country which is in the habit of blaming, distrusting and maligning politicians, often without cause. There is a growing tendency to take all issues pertaining to politicians in parliament as well as outside to court. In a land where controversial interventions, soft coups and overthrows have been all too common, this propensity for legal arbitration has been likened to the Pakistani habit of inviting the ‘apolitical’ security establishment to adjudicate on matters outside its domain, earning the latter an undesirable reputation. Even today, instead of containment through political engagement, preventing a political move through legal decree is spoken about, without any apparent consideration for how debilitating that can be for the political system and those who operate it, including parliament. Justice Athar Minallah is right. The trend has to be strongly discouraged.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2019