An epochal ruling

A line is drawn, the markers are down and ruthless as it is the SC has created a space for honest politics

April 14, 2018

Macbeth has a dream of a dagger which points to the chambers of King Duncan, possibly indicating that he should use it and follow through on the plan that he and Lady Macbeth have to murder the King. “Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle towards my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still…” – and it all ends badly for Macbeth and most of those around him that planned dark deeds.

Were Nawaz Sharif to look carefully into the crepuscular gloom of a political life now in its twilight then he too will see a dagger, and this in the hands of the apex judiciary who with a single thrust of the blade have relegated Mr Sharif to an outer darkness politically as well as Jehangir Tareen, and any other holder of an elected office that is found not to be “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law.”

Thus reads Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution of Pakistan and this is the bedrock on which the Supreme Court ruled that both Sharif and Tareen were disqualified for the rest of their lives from holding elected parliamentary position.

The verdict of the five-member bench was unanimous. The bench were clear – their verdict was ‘neither arbitrary or unjust nor unreasonable; it is ample’. The SC has now ruled definitively and that verdict is going to stand for years to come. In doing so it has the capacity to profoundly alter the contours of the political landscape because it is proactive.

Any other man or woman found thus wanting is also going to be disqualified for life, a prospect that is likely to already create mutterings of unease across the political spectrum, no matter the party or its inclination.

We welcome the SC ruling – though there are some, possibly many, that will disagree – because it removes the ambiguity which persisted after earlier attempts to define the constitutional terms of reference. It may seem draconian but it is not possible to dip in and out of being sadiq and ameen for a greater or lesser period of time. And once found lacking in either respect or both then the person found lacking is not fit to hold elected office and is disqualified. This does not mean that they serve a period of penance, they are disqualified. They are not miraculously going to be healed by a period on the sidelines. Or by expressions of contrition. They are out.

The SC has held… “incapacity to be incurable by efflux of time” and created a definition for the age. If Pakistan was ever going to break the mould of Old Politics and the culture of elective feudalism that has prevailed from the outset it was going to need a dagger. It was going to be messy – but we trust bloodless in the literal sense – and there were going to be casualties, perhaps many.

Immediately following the ruling social media lit up with arguments for and against. Some opined that the judiciary had usurped the role of parliament and that the matter should have been dealt with on the floor of the House, others that a failure by parliamentarians to create the legislation that would allow the measures today defined by the SC left it little choice but to reach the conclusion that it did.

The SC itself in additional notes appended to the judgment  states that it is empowered to interpret the Constitution but not amend it, and as the term of disqualification is not mentioned in the Constitution an interpretation is required and now given.

The dagger was not in the hand of Macbeth – or his female relatives for that matter – and there will be many that cry foul. But a line is drawn, the markers are down and ruthless as it is the SC has created a space for honest politics and another space for those found dishonest – outside. And Birnam Wood did come to Dunsinane.

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