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Rumbling on

August 04, 2012

THE Contempt of Court Act, 2012 is no more. Always likely to have only the briefest of existences, the law was gutted and then struck down in its entirety by the Supreme Court yesterday. While the latest round of the SC-PPP tussle will inevitably be located in the long-running saga of friction, reaction and worse, this time the matter was more clear cut. In a bid to save Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf from parliamentary disqualification were he to also face contempt charges for not writing the so-called Swiss letter, the government concocted a poor piece of legislation that was always going to face intense judicial scrutiny for its purposeful elevation of certain individuals above the reach of the law. Even reasonable voices within the PPP who know a thing or two about the law had expressed their reservations about the new contempt law. But the government was on a mission and it wasn’t to be deterred — until, that is, the inevitable judicial review took place and the law was consigned to the waste bin of history, as happened yesterday.

With the contempt law out of the way, the larger question is what will happen when the hearings on the implementation of the NRO — now really just about the Swiss letter — resume on Aug 8. At the last hearing, the five-member bench had appeared to hold out an olive branch to the government and seemed genuinely interested in finding some kind of compromise solution. But thus far, the government has not indicated that it is willing to find a way to reach an acceptable compromise with the court. While rumour and speculation suggest that neither the court nor the government is interested in dragging out this matter much longer, the fact is that one or the other will have to make a meaningful gesture at this stage — and no one is clear how and when that will happen.

So on and on will continue the legal clouds over the political landscape, it seems. For a matter that began in 2009, there is a tiresome repetitiveness to the NRO issue and President Zardari’s alleged ill-gotten wealth from the 1990s that was once stashed away in Swiss accounts. Every time the path to an on-schedule election is seemingly cleared, a fresh hurdle appears on the scene. Undesirable as the situation is, there is perhaps a silver lining: at least the hurdles in the way of an on-schedule election have not been truly insurmountable so far. The democratic project could do without the headache of electing yet another short-term PM, but if it does come to that, the system itself doesn’t seem in imminent trouble.