• Coalition leaders question impartiality of three-judge apex court bench, refuse to accept its verdict
• Maryam says anti-PML-N judges repeatedly included in benches; court favours PTI despite their ‘repeated mockery of judiciary’
ISLAMABAD: In a late-night press conference following the Supreme Court’s refusal to constitute a full court to hear the plea against the Punjab chief minister’s election, the ruling coalition announced a boycott of the proceedings.
Leaders of the ruling parties, who termed the SC decision “unacceptable”, joined heads at the Prime Minister Office to chalk out their future line of action. The late-night meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Addressing the press conference after the meeting on Monday night, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said any verdict announced by the three-judge bench hearing the case would be considered partial. Rejecting the apex court’s refusal to a full court, he said the government would not appear before this bench.
“The government wants no interference in its affairs and seeks a continuation of its policies for which it will also suggest parliament legislate to ensure respect to the people and judiciary’s verdicts.”
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senior vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the case at hand would be a test for the SC. “Justice demands that if a question has been raised over a bench or judge, they should recuse themselves. This is supremacy of the law. It is for this bench to decide how their conduct will go down in history.”
Federal ministers Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Ahsan Iqbal and allied party leaders also spoke on the occasion.
In a tweet, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz claimed that people now knew decisions in the country were made over personal likes and dislikes.
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, speaking outside the Supreme Court building, had hinted that the ruling coalition would boycott the case proceedings if a full court wasn’t formed.
Resuming the hearing of the government’s appeal for the last time after multiple breaks late at night, the court rejected the plea to constitute a full court, and adjourned the hearing till Tuesday morning (today).
Earlier in the morning, coming down hard on the judiciary and questioning its impartiality, all parties of the coalition government banded together and expressed ‘no confidence’ on the three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial hearing a plea against the election of Hamza Shehbaz as the chief minister, and reiterated their demand for a full court to decide the case.
In the high-profile press conference held at the PM Office, the top leadership of all parties in the coalition government said they won’t acknowledge any decision announced by the three-member bench, which they alleged was inclined towards the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and ‘favouring’ the party, but were ready to accept the decision of a full court.
Kicking off the press conference, PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz said there were many respected judges in the apex court, and questioned why they were not hearing cases. “One or two judges, who have always been anti-PML-N and anti-government, are repeatedly included in benches,” she remarked, adding that “bench-fixing is as big a crime as is match-fixing”.
She alleged that court decisions were favouring the PTI despite the fact that it consistently mocked the judicial system. She questioned the state of justice in the country where decisions were handed out in favour of those who “abuse and bully institutions” the most.
Ms Nawaz also cited several examples of the PML-N leadership’s legal woes, claiming its leaders were being discriminated against. About her cousin, Hamza Shehbaz, being asked to carry on as the CM with limited powers, she asked: “Have you ever heard of a trustee chief minister?” Since the day Hamza was elected, he was not allowed to work. “He has been shuttling between parliament and courts. What kind of justice is this?”
Mentioning the April 16 election for the Punjab CM, the firebrand PML-N leader said 25 provincial lawmakers were de-seated by the court on a petition of the PTI for voting for Hamza. “Ninety-five per cent independent jurists said it was tantamount to rewriting the Constitution... 25 PML-N members were added to the PTI tally… the PML-N votes were deducted and the PTI’s increased.”
Answering a question as to why no action was being taken against former premier Imran Khan despite the ruling parties leveling so many allegations against him, and the status of the cabinet committee formed to try PTI leaders under Article 6, Ms Nawaz said they could only do something once they were done facing the many court cases against them.
‘Constitution can’t be altered over pressure’
Foreign Minister and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari asserted that only three people could not decide the country’s fate, or whether this country would be run through a “democratic system, an elected system or a selected system”.
“Certain powers are unable to digest that Pakistan is moving towards democracy and people are making their own decisions,” he commented, without mentioning whom he was pointing at.
“It has been three months (since Khan’s ouster as the premier) and some powers, people, political parties and conspirators are unable to tolerate… a campaign is being run to keep Imran Khan at the forefront,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari alleged, adding that the campaign was a conspiracy against the country’s economic progress and democratic journey.
“We did not let any conspiracy succeed in the past and we will not let it happen now. We want institutions to remain uncontroversial and function within the ambit of the Constitution.”
He stressed the Constitution could not be altered due to any pressure exerted by the PTI chief.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl said fingers were being pointed at the judiciary. “The coalition government wants to strengthen the judiciary so their decisions speak for themselves. They shouldn’t have any conflict or give the impression of being biased,” he suggested.
Supremacy of law demanded
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Usama Qadri said the institutions should respect the wishes of citizens. He further said all the political parties were united on major political issues facing the country. “We want supremacy of the law and strengthening of democratic institutions. We are against any unconstitutional move, considering it against the people’s wishes.”
Jamhoori Watan Party leader and Minister for Narcotics Control Shahzain Bugti, joining the presser via a video link, called the full court a need of the hour to avoid any controversy at such a critical juncture.
Parliamentary leader’s powers
Awami National Party leader Aimal Wali Khan said all the state institutions should work under the ambit of the Constitution otherwise it would create chaos in the country.
“If a party president has no power then there is no use of his position and the parliamentary leader should be given his powers,” he asserted, maintaining, “the parliamentary leader is answerable to the party president”.
Regarding reports of the SC barring political parties’ leaders from entering its premises during the hearing, Muhammad Aslam Bhootani, an independent MNA from Balochistan, said: “We should all go there (SC) and confirm the veracity of the order.”
Balochistan National Party-Mengal MNA Agha Hassan Baloch called the ban regrettable.
Balochistan Awami Party MNA Khalid Magsi suggested all stakeholders call a grand jirga to decide the country’s future as “we have failed to put Pakistan on the right track”. He said the Punjab CM’s election had caused uncertainty in Pakistan. “The country seems to be working like a tribal system.”
Independent MNA Mohsin Dawar said a country could not function without the supremacy of law. The only binding document, he added, was the Constitution that kept the entire nation unified. He said since Nawaz Sharif’s ouster over an iqama in 2017, it was no surprise how the judiciary had been making selective decisions, adding the missing persons cases were pending for years. “Our colleague Ali Wazir’s case best defines the judiciary. Every time he is produced in courts, either a judge goes on leave or is sent to another bench. If he gets bail in one case, another is instituted against him,” he added.
Commenting on the reports of ban on entry of ruling party leaders to the apex court, he said the judges’ mala fide and their intentions were evident from such decisions.
Other senior leaders of the ruling alliance present on the occasion included federal ministers Rana Sanaullah, Ahsan Iqbal, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Sherry Rehman, Khurram Dastgir, Tariq Bashir Cheema, Asad Mehmood, and PM’s Adviser Amir Muqam.
The live telecast of the press conference through the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) was disrupted for a few minutes, sparking another controversy whether it was a bid to ‘censor’ the scathing statements of Maryam Nawaz. However, a senior PTV official told Dawn the disturbance was caused by the thunderstorm in the federal capital.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2022