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Prime minister’s conviction

Published Apr 27, 2012 12:10am


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IT was billed as the day of reckoning but it ended as the day of confusion. Faced with a choice between going for the ‘nuclear option’ — requiring the ouster of the prime minister — and a slap on the wrist — a token punishment which would allow the prime minister to continue in office — the Supreme Court appears to have chosen both. If that is an improbable outcome, its roots may lie in the gaping chasm between the weight of public expectation and the letter of the law. Essentially, while there had never been any doubt that the Supreme Court had the power to sentence the prime minister to a prison term, there was some debate whether the judiciary could short-circuit the constitutional disqualification process and either order that he be disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan or directly oust the prime minister itself.

In the end, the court has chosen to open the door to the disqualification process but stopped short of dragging the prime minister through the door itself. The matter, it appears, has for all intents and purposes been tossed back into the political arena, where someone — anyone? — can move the speaker of the National Assembly to take note of the judgment and to refer the matter to the Election Commission of Pakistan for a decision on whether the prime minister ought to be disqualified from parliament or not.

The court has acted in a judicious manner in implicitly acknowledging the limits of the judicial sphere, but its actions do raise a question: why drag the country through the months-long circus of a prime minister on trial for shielding his boss, the president of Pakistan, from corruption allegations when ultimately all it would do is expose the limits of judicial power? Sensible as the court’s judgment in the prime minister’s contempt case is, there is a need to revisit recent history. From the December 2009 NRO judgment, to the January 2012 ‘NRO implementation’ order containing the famous ‘six options’, to the conviction of the prime minister yesterday, the court has shown a keen interest in a very, very narrow set of allegations and cases, i.e. the ones pertaining to alleged corruption proceeds held in Swiss accounts allegedly belonging to the president. But the closer the court honed in on that particular set of allegations, the more the government dug in its heels — judicial selectivity provoking governmental intransigence. Unfortunate and wrong as it was for the government to fight its legal battles in a political manner, perhaps the institution making the first move should have been more aware of this possibility and chosen a different approach for itself.

While the NRO saga is not officially dead and buried — and in this land of surprises, nothing ever truly is — going forward it is in the institutional interests of the judiciary to revisit its strategy. Be it of its own making or someone else’s, anything that drags the judiciary into serious controversy is inimical to the development and standing of that institution. In a country where few, if any, other institutions stand as beacons of hope, faith in the judiciary by a wide cross-section of society and the polity is too precious to be lost.

It was a sad day for Pakistan yesterday in that a serving prime minister blatantly defied a court because he could; but there was a ray of hope in the shape of the judges who refused to be provoked and hand down a judgment that would reverberate. Unsatisfactory as it may sound, the broader commitment to the continuity of the democratic project has rightly prevailed over narrow institutional battles. A few decades, or even years, ago when a clash looked inevitable a clash did result. But perhaps it is a sign of the growing maturity of the system that the seemingly inevitable can in fact be averted. Yesterday, by averting a clash the Supreme Court didn’t lose; the country won.

Comments (12) Closed

Haji Ashfaq Apr 27, 2012 06:53am
Quite agree and endorse comments by Shankar but the core issue of writting letter to the Swiss bank has not been solved. It was also not mentioned in the proceedings that when Malik Qayyum sent a letter to withdraw the case of money laundring from the Swill court, the Swiss Magistrate had murmered "Wtihdrawing the case does not mean the crime (of money laundring againt Asif Ali Zardari) was not comitted". More over contempt of court case against Babar Awan is also pending in the court and want to see what punishment he gets.
Nikkoo Apr 28, 2012 02:40am
Nicely summed up Shankar......
Iqbal Apr 27, 2012 06:17am
what will happen to "writing a letter" part?
Shankar Apr 27, 2012 05:18am
I am totally impressed at the maturity of the SC judges, they have admisitered a rap on the knuckle without torpedoing the nascent experiment with democracy. In an earlier comment in Dawn I had prayed for the judges to pardon the PM and save the democracy. In their wisdom, they have more than answered my prayers! Thank you judges! I also thank Mr. Gilani for standing his ground as humbly as he could, by attending the hearing whenever asked. I hope Pakistan and the PM can go back to the more urgent needs of governance now that this is settled with no clear loser!
hamid ali Apr 27, 2012 09:27am
Very good and balanced article . But i am replying to Mr Ayaz that winning a seat can not give a person to become above law. I am not supportive or unsupportive of Prime Minister. But what a mokery of law that when we talk about bringing Pakistan wealth back to country without placing any person name we must not place politics in that . Does it mean that if i am non political entity i am subjected to law . And a political entity can do whatever corruption and then smile and get appreciation,Moreover a support from its party members not for solving ongoing power crissis or economic crunch but to shelving a corruption case. Bravo
Masood Hussain Apr 27, 2012 08:39am
Agree 100% with Shankar.Wonder if this judgment has any bearing on Multan bye-election?
Hussain Apr 27, 2012 09:45am
absolutely correct. I agree.
Malik Javed Apr 27, 2012 01:22pm
I agree the court has passed a wise judgement and PM is convicted. We have parliamentary form of government where PM is elected by the majority of the parliament members, so it would not matter to him he is convicted or he may get a custodial prison. I believe every society has bad people but good people rule the nation, so it is Pakistan “Enigma of Political Development” where society has good people and criminals rule. The time is not very far away when ruling class would be out of power and they may be knocking at the doors of these courts asking for mercy. Just for the knowledge of your readers in the UK, if a government minister is alleged to have done something below the parliamentary standard, he has to resign. Current David Cameron government has lost two secretary of states and one more is in focus.
Afzal Mahmood Apr 27, 2012 09:43am
The court is kind enough not to let the democratic system derail. During the past history courts have always been very very kind to Dictators. This time a little bit easy with those who hail through ballot and not through bullet.
Khalid Hussain Apr 27, 2012 07:28am
A mature and wise move by supreme court must be applauded. I am really impressed by the wisdom and intellect of hounorable bench. Three cheers for them. I also draw attention of our political leadership for God sake behave maturely and dont pitch heads on.
ayaz Apr 27, 2012 08:10am
What people think about conviction and sentence clearly reflects in by poll results of election in multan held yesterday. PPP won
Suhail Ahmad Apr 27, 2012 02:06pm
PPP did not win, it is actually PML N who lost. Make an analysis of the votes cast and you will find out yourself. PML N supporters did not turn out. They have given up on the party. They are waiting for PTI. You will see in the elections insha'Allah.