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President holds sway in executive-judiciary tiff

August 09, 2012


President Asif Ali Zardari.—Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/
President Asif Ali Zardari — Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/

The tussle between the executive and judiciary has morphed into a clash between the judges and the parliamentarians.

Not long ago, the media would explain the NRO judgment implementation case saga as a direct confrontation between the governing PPP and the apex court. Now, one regularly reads and hears about it as an argument between supremacy of the parliament vis-à-vis court’s right to interpret legislation.

This transformation has not taken place overnight, and at times it seems that some hard thinking has gone behind the events calling for judicial restraint against the parliament.

So far, President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the PPP, has proven himself to be a better politician than his opponents. Even though the NRO judgment, judges and issue of the letter to the Swiss authority and even a PPP premier stand as they were, President Zardari has found a battery of new defenders. On August 8, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a non-political body, passed a unanimous resolution calling upon the judiciary to exercise restraint. The commission also asked the legal fraternity not to take sides, with an apparent reference to loyalists of the chief justice of Pakistan, and demanded the constitution of a body for accountability of the judges.

The media at national and international level has also started calling upon judges of the Supreme Court to show control in its face-off with the parliament. At individual level, the likes of Aitzaz Ahsan, who single-handedly led the movement for restoration of the judges, and Asma Jahangir, known human rights activists and former chairperson of the Supreme Court Bar Association, have in so many words warned the apex court against trespassing domain of the parliament.

Even opposition and coalition members have voiced their support for the PPP. Although for an entirely different set of reasons, Chaudhry Nisar’s criticism of the apex court judges for their lack of knowledge about parliamentary procedures indirectly has helped the cause of the PPP for parliamentary supremacy.

Similarly, last week, Muttahida Qaumi Movement Chief Altaf Hussain in a telephonic address over an Iftar dinner predicted doomsday scenario for the country if the courts kept on undermining role of the parliament. Referring to the SC decision on the contempt of the court act, he even called for wrapping up of the parliament if it has no right to legislate. The Awami National Party, another ally of the government, has of late come more openly against the judiciary.

For the time being, it’s obvious that President Zardari is in total control of the situation. Foremost, he has successfully managed the most fractious coalition government in the history of Pakistan: in the house of 342, the PPP only has 125 members, a number far removed from the 171 required for the simple majority to elect prime minister.

Next, the PPP with its lack of a decisive majority has installed its men as premiers — first it was Yousuf Raza Gilani and now Raja Pervez Ashraf who is running the show at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. And even though Mr Gilani was unanimously elected, credit has to be given to Mr Zardari for seeing that Mr Ashraf, with his tainted past for alleged role in the Rental Power Projects scam, managed to bag a total of 211 votes.

According to a senior PPP office-bearer, there have been many occasions in the past four years when some old party guards known for their calm demeanor called for a tit-for-tat response to the judiciary. “One may not forget the episode of the government’s purported plan to de-notify appointment of the Supreme Court judges, which led to a mid-night full court meeting at the house of chief justice of Pakistan,” recalled the PPP leader.

However, he was quick to add: “President Zardari has never let party-hawks have a field day. Some in the PPP even rate him even a better politician than the late BB. This week, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan in an interview with the BBC admired President Zardari for forming coalitions.”

Nonetheless, only time would tell, whether Mr Zardari emerges as the eventual winner or loser, because this country is full of precedents when all powerful dictators like General Musharraf and clever politicians like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto couldn’t do much in the end.