Whither democracy?

Institutional angst

Heady times in our constitutional history. The first and foremost is the hesitation, on the flimsiest of grounds, by the ruling coalition to delay elections in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, and more disturbing oblique statements about the upcoming general elections of October as well.

Following that, of course, was the Supreme Court’s insistence on taking a suo motu action on the issue, despite the matter already being heard at the Lahore High Court. That, and a number of long overdue issues, led to the parliament passing a piece of legislation that sets a limit on the Chief Justice’s powers regarding a lot of issues, including but not limited to those regarding suo motu cases. The selection of an eight-member bench (including the CJ, whose powers are being clipped) to review this legislation hasn’t gone down well with the government. Accusations of bias abound.

Yes, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all matters, all disputes between institutions. Yes, it is the final arbiter, even in disputes between institutions and the Supreme Court itself; such is the nature of the apex judiciary, all over the world. But for the CJP to be on this particular bench does give fodder to the government regarding those allegations of bias.

The court is well within its rights – duty, even – to see whether any legislation by parliament infringes on the independence of the judiciary, as envisaged in the constitution itself. But the supremacy of the parliament is also what our constitution envisages. The representatives of the people will make the laws that the courts will have to apply in order to dispense justice, not the honourable judges’ own ideas about justice.

It is hoped that all sides see reason and accept their place in what a democratic republic should look like.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].

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