Too big for their robes?
The Supreme Court has shown a novel way to remove the Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy hitherto not recognised by the textbooks on political science. One was made to understand that a PM could only be removed if he lost the support of the majority in the NA and was voted out of power. Gilani who had the rare distinction of receiving the vote of confidence of the entire house still claims 172 supporters in a house of 342 has however been sent home after being declared ineligible for being a member of parliament.
No bloodshed, no restrictions on media, no arrests and still the government removed. This can, therefore, be rightly called a sot coup. The Supreme Court has done with one stroke of pen what the entire opposition supported by a section of the highly partisan media had failed to achieve over the last more than four years.
Despite the sanctity accorded to them, neither the laws nor the verdicts delivered by courts are always right. The laws can be outmoded, bad or outright unjust. There is also the category referred to as the black laws. Laws of the type keep society backward and cause enough human suffering. It is the duty of every conscious citizen to protest against bad laws. One is, however, to obey them as long as they exist on the statue book. Defiance of laws creates chaos and stands in the way of peaceful change.
Judges in the past have been accused of both aiding miscarriage of justice and error of judgment. Like many earlier court decisions, the present one too has been criticised, among others by legal luminaries. However, even if one differs with a verdict, one has to accept it to maintain order in society.
Few beside the PPP jiyalas would disagree that the government was mired in scams, showed supreme unconcern for the people’s suffering and had set up new records in bad governance. But like the bad laws, the bad government too has to be changed in accordance with the book to avoid unhappy social consequences. The best way to get rid of a politician accused of corruption or gross misuse of authority is through elections. Public rejection constitutes the worst form of censure. In cases, it can cause the political demise of a leader. Removal through courts on the contrary could turn an otherwise lawbreaker into a hero.
Courts are at their best while interpreting the laws. Politics is not their cup of tea. Judgments that cause political havoc can lead to unintended consequences. The present decision has already polarized society. In Punjab there were scenes of jubilation, in Sindh widespread protests.
The decision will have far reaching consequences for relations between the judiciary and the executive and parliament. Currently, the opposition parties are congratulating the Supreme Court over the action against Gilani. This is, however, not to last long. The day one of these parties comes to power, alone or in alliance with coalition partners, it will start planning to secure itself against any move of the sort by the apex court. This is bound to lead to attempts at reducing the apex court’s powers. Be it the PML(N) or PTI, their leaders are not known for extraordinary tolerance. Any move by the court considered by a leader with a big mandate as interference in his domain is likely to be strongly resisted. The Supreme Court has thus unknowingly initiated a process where the apex court would be on one side and the executive and parliament on the other.
The Supreme Court would have done well to avoid confronting the prime minister over his failure to write the letter to the Swiss authorities. The court has declined to take notice of a number of failings on the part of major institutions. The undetected presence of OBL in Pakistan for nearly five years underlined a colossal failure on the part of the security agencies rife with grave consequences for the country’s security. The failure by the defence establishment to stop the incursion of the US special troops in Abbottabad was equally so. Similarly the apex court chose to ignore for years the application by Air Marshal Asghar Khan. Why couldn’t it treat the NAB case and the memo case similarly?
The apex court has a plethora of cases which needs its attention. Certain cases are chosen, certain others are out on the backburner. The question that is going to be increasingly asked is regarding the court’s criteria for making the choice
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.