Dual office case: Court advises president to relinquish political office

LHC says activities are inconsistent with the neutrality of the presidential office.


Rana Tanveer May 12, 2011

LAHORE:


The Lahore High Court on Thursday ruled on a petition that it “expected” President Asif Ali Zardari to suspend all his political activities on the grounds that these activities were inconsistent with the neutrality and independence of the presidential office.


The petition was filed by the Pakistan Lawyers Forum (PLF) through Advocate AK Dogar in 2009 on the dual offices of the president. In March, the court had reserved its judgment on the same case.

This time around a four-member bench headed by Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry issued the 33-page judgment in reference to a Supreme Court verdict on the Nawaz Sharif vs President of Pakistan (PLD 1993 SC) case, which held that the duties and functions of the presidential office are to be discharged with neutrality and impartiality.

The bench said “it is expected that the president of Pakistan will disassociate himself from political office at the earliest” and will “cease the use of the premises of the presidency for the purposes and political meetings of his party.”

It declared that the president’s participation in party decisions was “extraneous to the duties and functions of his high constitutional office”.

Citing a newspaper report, the bench held that there is “ample evidence that the meetings of the party in government, of which the president is a co-chairperson, are regularly held in the presidency.”

In its written order, the court clarified that it was not a case for disqualification of the president, nor is it a case for prohibitory order because the president’s activities are not barred under law.

It also pointed out that when “the highest office of the state becomes controversial” the unity of the state begins to erode.

The bench drew a distinction between the functions and duties of presidential office and that of political office, noting that the latter stemmed from the “personal and private association of the president with his political party”. These actions therefore do not enjoy immunity from the judicial process and call for judicial intervention to enforce the constitution, the court said in its ruling.

The president cannot, for instance, be held responsible for any poor political decision made by the government. Under Article 48 (1) of the constitution, the president is shielded from any political backlash since it is the executive alone that is made accountable for its decisions.

Another constitutional clause (Article 218 ) allows the president to participate in the affairs of a political party and grant immunity to the holder of the office.

Referring to another civil miscellaneous application of the petitioner seeking disqualification of the president, the bench held, “As visualised in Article 47 of the constitution recourse of disqualification is available only with parliament in its joint session and the court shall not by collateral means transgress that constitutional limitation.”

The court further said it was aware that the high office of the president enjoys immunity from certain legal proceedings. On this note, the bench disposed the matter.

Speaking to journalists after the hearing, Dogar said he would to file a contempt-of-court petition if the president does not relinquish his political office.

He also claimed that the judgment had directed the president to give up his political office by Thursday evening.

Reacting to the judgment, former federal law minister Babar Awan said there is no law in Pakistan which restricts the president from participating in politics. He cited Article 17 of the constitution and said that every citizen of Pakistan has the right to take part in politics.

Parliament has three components: the National Assembly, the Senate and the presidency. Both houses are political and it will be the first time in the world that the third part is not allowed to do politics, Awan said. According to him, the constitution does not define politics.

Meanwhile, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, said: “Although I have not read the judgment, according to my perception it is not appropriate to ask the president what to do and what not to.”





Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2011.


COMMENTS (38)

whocares | 10 years ago | Reply The general perception, right to or wrong, is that LHC is biased against people who are not their type. The present members of the judiciary deserve credit for creating apathy towards them by average Pakistanis. The high esteem in which we used to hold the judiciary - treating court decisions sacredly - has been evaporated. Thanks to judges from Nasim Hassan Shah through Dogar to the media-coverage-loving, remarkscentric, Chaudhry.The average Pakistani doesn't seem to care about their decisions anymore. It is sad.
Nazia Hassan | 10 years ago | Reply With the entrance of Zardari to corridors of Powers, all the hell broke out. Establishment is annoyed, right wing political parties are in ire and Media is blowing fire against him. The remaining deficiency is bridged by the Courts. From NRO to the status quo of President, Courts seem waging a war against him. The entire efforts focus to dislodge Zardari, he has become a thorn of eye of all the bullies of courts, media men and Right wing political parties. They never intended to underscore any of the single folly of Zardari, infact they can’t. They have nothing to prove against him. They are all as crooked as dog hind legs, but they are so blind to see their filth. The recent verdict of Supreme Court shows nothing but a trick to hide their embarrassment. The verdict of LHC would be another blot on the stained past of judiciary. I wonder after 64 years Judiciary remembered that a President should be non-partisan. Where was the judiciary when Skindar Mirza used president house to promote the Republican parties interests? Why Judiciary behaved like a dumb spectator when Ayub Khan was chalking out political strategies for conventional Muslim League? Why Judiciary was in slumber when Ishaq Khan was on course of collision with Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed? Why Judiciary did not intervene when Ghulam Ishaq Khan toppled the Benazir Bhutto’s regime?
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