The Supreme Court, in claiming to represent the will of the people, has removed from power the people’s representative, saying that he stood disqualified from being a member of parliament and hence the office of the prime minister since April 26 — the day he was found guilty of contempt. Support for the decision may not be unanimous mainly because of recent developments, especially where the Honourable Court was dragged into the Arsalan Iftikhar matter and how it chose to — itself — remove it from the allegations citing that Malik Riaz had himself admitted that he had never received any favours from the court. The procedure to remove a prime minister from office is clear: he can be voted out by parliament or the speaker of the National Assembly can send a reference to the Election Commission. So the view, that with this verdict, the apex court has played the role of judiciary, legislature and executive, may find some takers. Also, one must wonder why didn’t the seven-member bench that ruled in the contempt case in April not make matters clear, and that if the intention was to leave the matter to parliament then why wasn’t the speaker’s ruling left unscrutinised. The passage of almost two months since that verdict and Tuesday’s decision may well give ammunition to some people who may claim that the Honourable Court is perhaps trying to deflect attention from the Arsalan Iftikhar case. Furthermore, there will be people, and not entirely from within the PPP, who may consider whether yesterday’s verdict is, in effect, a judicial coup.
Of course, all of this is not to say that Yousaf Raza Gilani or the PPP is without blame. The crisis could have been avoided by simply writing to the Swiss authorities or he could have resigned on April 26. Of course, the other view is that the apex court could have let the matter rest after being told by the government that under the Constitution, the president enjoyed immunity. Of course, it has to be said, with the utmost of deference and respect, that often times, the apex court has not shown the same assertiveness to military dictators that it has shown to elected civilians/governments. Perhaps this is now changing, with the court’s renewed interest in the missing persons’ case and Asghar Khan’s petition. But one would like this interest to be sustained in order to show tangible results.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2012.