Lip service?

Published April 11, 2023

The National Constitutional Convention ought to have been a celebratory occasion, observed with solemnity and quiet reflection on the monumental effort that must have been required to convince the country’s divided leadership to accede near-unanimously to the 1973 Constitution.

Instead, our current crop of lawmakers marked its 50-year jubilee with their customary lack of decorum, vacuous speeches and an utter lack of self-awareness.

The parties present for the occasion could not resist the temptation to deliver more politically divisive speeches, and the occasion, therefore, seemed diminished in its significance and cheapened by the ‘business as usual’ environment in which it was held.

It also could not escape controversy, with the presence of the soon-to-be-chief justice taken by some to be ‘suggestive’, before he clarified that he had only come to celebrate the Constitution and had been informed there would be no political discussions.

There were reminders aplenty of the disconnect that exists today between the Pakistan as envisaged in the Constitution and the Pakistan we have today. Some of our lawmakers thundered about the ‘supremacy of parliament’ as they took turns to criticise the judiciary, pointing out the latter’s many faults while demanding that it keep within its constitutional bounds.

However, when their criticism turned to the other habitually transgressing institution of the state, those same speeches were quickly muted by television channel operators.

The message couldn’t be clearer: whatever the Constitution says and lawmakers like to believe, the establishment remains untouchable; even a parliamentarian speaking on the floor of the National Assembly cannot be heard speaking against it.

Parliament also capitalised on the occasion to seemingly intrude into the judiciary’s domain. Multiple lawmakers offered rather defiant interpretations of the constitutional provisions regarding the conduct of elections, substantiating them with arguments that no independent legal mind in the country has so far been willing to accept.

Yesterday also marked the deadline for the government to release funds so that Punjab Assembly elections can be held on May 14, in line with a recent judgement issued by the Supreme Court.

Instead, the finance minister chose to ‘bypass’ that deadline by tabling a bill in parliament seeking ‘approval’ to release those funds. It ought to be pointed out here that regardless of whether ‘4-3’ or ‘3-2’ prevails, the government has no endorsement so far from the Supreme Court for its decision to delay the pending elections till October.

The government may later excuse itself, claiming it lacked clarity on the matter, but it has been evident for some time that it has had no qualms about subverting a rather clear-cut constitutional provision because it does not align with its political goals. Clearly, Monday’s boisterous speeches about upholding the Constitution needed to be taken with a healthy pinch of salt.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2023

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