On April 26, the Supreme Court reached a landmark decision in the matter of the prime minister’s alleged contempt of court. The verdict left behind in its wake, the perennial debate on whether it was really a ‘landmark’ verdict or not. There is no doubt that the prime minister was indeed convicted, but he was given a very light sentence. By now, anyone who has followed this case and its aftermath, is well schooled in 63 (1) (g), 63(2) and 63(3) — the roadmap that will lead to the prime minister’s removal from the hallowed office he occupies. The Court gave due consideration to the mitigating consequences of 63 (1) (g), the most debilitating clause in announcing the light sentence. The Court does not mention 63(2) and 63(3) in the short order; these are the analytical addendums that show the Court’s implicit intent.
The experts have called this a ‘smart’ verdict. Those adept at reading between the lines point to the denial of an opportunity to the PPP, and especially to the PM, to seek judicial martyrdom which could then have become the emotional basis for recourse to a sympathy vote in the forthcoming elections. Given its abysmal performance in government, the PPP is once again rekindling its victim status to paper over its all-round failure through emotive diversions. The agitation in Sindh following the judgment was a reflection of this. The misplaced reaction lacked relevance since the PPP itself was still unsure whether to treat the verdict as a relative success — the PM had escaped jail — or another knot in a tightening noose with the PM’s likely disqualification looming.
The verdict was also considered ‘smart’ because the Court avoided an explicit manifestation of it becoming a party to the removal of an increasingly tainted PM, whose family has been besieged by an unending saga of corruption cases. In an equally smart move, anticipating the tightening noose around the PM, the PPP has raised the bogey of both the military and the judiciary as its feared protagonists, forcing both these institutions to handle all matters such as this one with care. The fact that the government is perceived to have been involved in rampant corruption, has led to serious disappointment among the people at the lax punishment given to the PM, notwithstanding the fact that any sentence given to him would have had the same effect. The people wanted retribution for the perceived excesses of their chief executive and found the courts wanting.
The desired game plan for the government’s detractors from here on is for the speaker of the National Assembly to follow through with the disqualification clause under 63(2), which would then set in motion clause 63(3) to be implemented by the election commission. But what if the speaker does not see any ‘question’ arising on the PM’s status? Accepting a loss is as much a mental disposition as it is a tangible reality. If questions are raised on the neutrality of the umpires, a loss may never be acknowledged. Mostly in such cases, one team walks off; the difficulty here is that team PPP is not willing to walk off!
The next best bet for the government’s detractors would be to hope that the opposition — the PML-N, the PTI and others — forces the government’s hand to act on the Court’s implicit order to send Mr Gilani home. However, Nawaz Sharif may have other complications to sort out before he is ready to bring the edifice down. Until any of this happens, the convicted PM is here to stay.
Here are a few points for the Court to consider: trying to avoid facing difficult consequences and unwilling to carry out justice to its logical end is patently escapist. When the judges were reinstituted on the back of a popular movement, they became messiahs for the average Pakistani who pinned his hopes on the Chief Justice and his colleagues. I am afraid that the Court has fallen short in its first real test. It is equally pertinent to suggest that when pronouncements are moulded to suit the prevalent environment, they may lead to the rebirth of a tacit doctrine of necessity.
I agree with those who have handed round one to the government. It has been a case of paani vich madhani (churning the waters without consequence) as far as the courts are concerned.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.
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