In the run-up to next month’s Senate elections and the general elections scheduled for 2013, the Supreme Court may end up being the biggest player in town. Its verdict on February 7 — suspending the membership of 28 parliamentarians, including two federal ministers, on the basis that by-elections were held in contravention of the 18th Amendment — could well set off another round of confrontation between the Supreme Court and the executive. The judgment, which doubts the veracity of the electoral list and blames the PPP-led government for not properly reconstituting the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could well give the opposition parties ample opportunity to stymie the electoral process. The suspension of the MNAs and senators will only be overturned once parliament passes the 20th Amendment, giving the PML-N leverage to press the government to accept its various demands. Some observers are of the view that the Supreme Court is soft on the military, for the simple reason that while the prime minister has been called in for contempt of court for violating the court’s ruling on the NRO, nothing of the sort has been done with regard to military interventions, which clearly were violative of the Constitution.
One consequence of the verdict, relying as it does on supposedly flawed voters’ lists is that its logic could also be applied to the 2008 elections themselves. There were complaints after the general elections that the voters’ lists were incomplete and the ECP at that time, more or less, admitted this. Looking forward, it promised to do a better job for the next elections. The Supreme Court, now that it has set the precedent for putting aside the results of elections, could go down a slippery slope and challenge the authenticity of the 2008 elections too. The idea that the Court would do this may seem ludicrous, but such is the logic advanced by the Court itself. For the sake of democracy, the best thing the political parties can do now is pass the 20th Amendment as soon as possible so that scheduled elections, both for the Senate and National Assembly, can be conducted smoothly. For the future, an elected government would do well to abide by the Constitution and ensure that all its subordinate organisations and bodies do the same, lest its policy or action may be challenged in a court of law.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2012.
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