Back in the Eighth Amendment days of yore, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was often called upon to determine whether a president or governor’s dismissal of the national or provincial assembly was constitutional. The Court didn’t swing the axe itself; it merely decided whether the blow was justified.
With June 19’s Supreme Court ruling that Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani ceased to hold office from April 26 on account of his conviction for contempt of court, the Court has, for the first time, dismissed a government.
I don’t know Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. I have heard many stories about him and his family. But I don’t put stock in such stories, mostly because one can hardly trust what they read or hear nowadays. I do know him as the democratically-elected prime minister of Pakistan responsible for overseeing — some would say badly — the huge and impossibly complex job of governing this country. I also know that his removal, while legally justified, will disrupt many of the policies — whether I agree with them or not — his government was attempting to implement.
From an administrative standpoint, his removal means a change in momentum in the implementation of policy. It means uncertainty. Uncertainty is a cancer for any administration. These are entities that demand focus and direction, else the wheels spin but no one gets anywhere. On the other hand, there is the possibility that a new government may bring the focus and attention that our administration demands. Stranger things have been known to happen.
There are many reasons to dismiss an elected representative. But they must be good, as the will of the people is not something to be taken lightly. A representative may be corrupt, in which case they have lost the moral authority to represent their constituency. A prime minister may be removed on a vote of no confidence, which means he has lost the ability to govern parliament.
In the present case, the prime minister has been removed because — as some see it — he has refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s direction to write a letter that may initiate criminal proceedings against the sitting president. Some argue that a convicted person cannot be prime minister.
Some of the petitions and applications upon which the Supreme Court made its decision were filed after the prime minister’s conviction. They were ably argued by, amongst others, AK Dogar and Mohammad Azhar Siddique (who brought CP 40 of 2012 titled Mohammad Azhar Siddique vs Federation of Pakistan in his own name). Some will recall AK Dogar as the advocate who represents Hafiz Saeed before the Lahore High Court. And who can forget Azhar Siddique, the lawyer behind the petition seeking a ban on Facebook and founder of the alternative social media website Millat Facebook.
I congratulate all counsel for the swiftness with which they were able to obtain disposal of their petitions for their clients. By way of contrast, I know of a litigant before the Supreme Court who is claiming compensation for the state’s acquisition of his family’s property in 1948 and for which litigation commenced in 1988. To date, he has not received his compensation. Our Constitution directs that no person be deprived of their property without compensation. Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his address to the Constituent Assembly in 1947, said that the first duty of the State was to protect the life and property of its citizens.
But by far the most troubling activity in the Court this past week was the brouhaha that sparked up between the attorney general of Pakistan and senior lawyers when the latter employed what can best be described as an ultra vires hand gesture during arguments. Such scenes have hitherto been the domain of the district courts and evening news reporting. Nevertheless, it is often said that violence begins when sane men lose their ability to reason. The fact that reason is lost on the courtroom floor is a dark omen for us all.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2012.