In the contempt case initiated by the Supreme Court against Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister’s legal representative Aitzaz Ahsan has come up with several reasons for why the case should be dismissed. For one, argues Aitzaz, the president’s immunity under the constitution is iron-clad and so the prime minister cannot ask Swiss authorities to open cases against him. Then there is the fact that under the law it is the law minister who has to advise the prime minister to write the letter to the Swiss and since he has not done so there is little that the prime minister can do in such a situation. Furthmore, Mr Ahsan’s argument, that the bench of the Supreme Court which initiated contempt proceedings against Gilani should not be the one hearing the case because of a possible conflict of interest, is also a reasonably fair one.
Even though it is not explicitly mandated by law, having a different bench hear the case would protect the Supreme Court from charges of bias and being politically motivated. The argument centres on the supremacy of parliament and the right of review of the Supreme Court. In an ideal world, both institutions — the executive and the judiciary — would work within their constitutionally-defined spheres but alas, we do not live in such a world. That said, it would have been far better and what is happening now could, perhaps, have been avoided if the prime minister had responded to the Supreme Court with these arguments back when he was first asked to write the letter. This pointless delay seems to indicate that the ruling party is, perhaps, banking on the prime minister becoming some kind of martyr and using that to good effect in the forthcoming elections by presenting itself not as the incumbent party, but one that has always been targeted by the establishment. As a political move there can be no denying its power but the PPP, along with the Supreme Court, has ensured that our politics will be extremely divisive when the need of the day is for democratic forces to cooperate and thwart threats to increased democratisation.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2012.