Govt vows not to let CJP have his way

Published April 5, 2023
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the National Assembly session on Tuesday. — PID photo
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the National Assembly session on Tuesday. — PID photo

• Legislature, executive refuse to abide by verdict; PM calls it ‘murder of justice’
• Legal team tasked with ‘repulsing’ judgement
• Minister to write to apex court to take up reference against Z.A. Bhutto’s ‘judicial murder’

ISLAMABAD: In an act of open defiance, the National Assembly and the federal cabinet — dominated by members of the ruling coalition — refused to abide by the Supreme Court ruling that fixed May 14 as the election date in Punjab, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif calling the verdict a “murder of justice”.

Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, where the judiciary came under intense criticism for its latest judgement, categorically declared that the decision would not be implemented at any cost and demanded a full court to hear the issue — a demand long held by the government.

They asked Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial to “rethink and constitute a full court bench” to resolve the crisis while also drawing comparisons between the decision which led to the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the ruling on polls date.

Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, PM Shehbaz Sharif equated the decision with that of the ‘judicial murder’ of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and said that “his murder took place on April 4, 1979, and on the same date (today), the unfortunate episode was repeated” through the polls ruling.

“Two decisions were made today, murder of Bhutto and murder of justice, which is highly regrettable,” the premier said while speaking at the National Assembly session.

During a meeting of the federal cabinet that categorically rejected the verdict, the apex executive body directed the legal team to find ways to repulse the decision.

“The prime minister has directed me and the attorney general to give a legal opinion on the Supreme Court’s decision that has been made in such a way that it negated the judicial system of the country,” Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said on the floor of the National Assembly following the cabinet huddle.

The verdict regarding elections in Punjab would further deepen the constitutional and political crises in the country, he said, adding: “We have reservations about the decision and our legal team will decide about the future course of action after consultations”.

Mr Tarar said the government wanted free and fair elections across the country simultaneously.

The law minister said according to Article 224, general elections should be held at the same time across the country, while as per Article 254, polls could be postponed due to some extraordinary situation.

‘Judicial martial law’

“Swear to God, we will restore the Constitution and democracy. We will not let this illegitimate and un-Islamic decision get implemented in Pakistan, come what may. We will fight till last as far as Constitution and the law permit us,” declared Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) leader Asad Mehmood amid desk-thumping by the members.

Lawmakers, including ministers, questioned the CJP’s reluctance to form a full bench and accused the judiciary of having a “clear tilt” towards the PTI and its chairman Imran Khan.

“You [the CJP] could have proved your impartiality with just one decision. But you preferred to get your name included in the list of lovers of Imran and PTI,” said Mr Mehmood, who is the son of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

“We have struggled against military martial laws in the country, and now we are announcing a revolt against judicial martial law. We will never accept judicial martial law,” said the JUI-F leader, who alleged that the CJP had divided the judiciary and wanted to divide the nation.

PML-N stalwart and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said his party had succeeded in getting the judiciary restored through a movement during the military rule of dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf, but it failed to make it “independent and impartial.”

Mr Rafique recalled that veteran politician Javed Hashmi had disclosed in 2014 when he was still in the PTI that a decision had been made that the PML-N government of that time would be ousted through a “nexus between the judges and generals”. He added the claim later proved true.

He said once again efforts were being made to impose one person on the nation which no political party would tolerate. “We don’t want a repeat of the 2018 elections,” he added.

Climate Change Minister and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman alleged that the court’s verdict was an effort to “split Pakistan down in the middle”. “Heavens will not fall if you constitute a full court,” she said, adding: “You [the judiciary] have created this constitutional crisis and now you need to find a way out.”

‘Black day’

Criticising the verdict, opposition leader and PTI dissident Raja Riaz termed April 4 another “black day” in the country’s history, stating that instead of “uniting all the political forces, one ladla (blue-eyed) had been rewarded”.

MQM’s Salahuddin said, “It seems that the military establishment has become neutral, but the judiciary which carried out the judicial murder [of Mr Bhutto] in the past is still making wrong decisions.”

Paying tributes to the late Bhutto, PTI dissident Ahmed Hussain Deharr said unfortunately those who were given the task of interpreting the constitution hanged the creator of the Constitution. PPP’s Agha Rafiullah said that today “every Pakistani” was ready to commit contempt of court. He challenged the judges to summon him to any court.

Lone opposition voice

The sole voice in defence of the apex court came from recently-elected PTI MNA from Rajanpur, Mohsin Leghari who asked Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf not to allow the members to talk about the conduct of judges as per the Constitution.

The PTI MNA also defended his party chairman Imran Khan and asked the members not to target the SC judges and Mr Khan as they were not present in the house to defend themselves.

“I pay tributes to the CJP. There is no room and no doubt that the elections should be held within 90 days,” said the PTI MNA, adding the courts should make decisions based on justice without fearing their consequences. The speaker adjourned the NA session till Wednesday (today) morning.

Judicial murder of Z.A. Bhutto

The cabinet decided that the government would write to the court for the hearing of a presidential reference regarding the judicial murder of the slain PPP founder by a full court.

It was agreed that a reference over the judicial murder of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which had been pending for the last 12 years, should be taken up and decided by the full court.

“We will write to the apex court to form a full court bench to hear the reference so that it might get an opportunity to rectify the historic mistake in the judicial history,” the law minister said. “The world knows that ZAB’s case was a ‘judicial murder’.’’

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2023

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