The apex court’s been aggressive, and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is considering clipping its talons.
The party is believed to be contemplating a constitutional amendment to curtail the Supreme Court’s powers to interpret constitutional issues, and set up a new federal judicial body to deal with such matters. The move to establish a separate Federal Constitutional Court (FCC), however, could exacerbate the executive-judiciary tussle.
The radical step, according to sources in the ruling coalition, was reportedly discussed at a meeting of the inner-most circle of the PPP, thought to be close to President Asif Ali Zardari, who would subsequently share it with his allies.
The proposed judicial body is likely to have the same powers as the Supreme Court when it comes to hearing constitutional petitions, like the one that caused the disqualification of Yousaf Raza Gilani.
The proposed amendment to the 1973 Constitution, likely to be drafted by the PPP’s top legal brains, will elaborate the distribution of powers between the Supreme Court and the new judicial body.
Curtailing judicial activism
The proposal, according to a PPP official privy to the matter, was first floated at a party meeting held the day Gilani was disqualified by the apex court, and some of Zardari’s allies suggested that he take an aggressive stance against what they thought was unacceptable judicial activism.
Zardari, however, advised his angry associates not to push for a hasty decision on this, and assured them that he would take the step at an appropriate time.
The meeting decided that the PPP would first try to curtail the energy crisis before what may appear an extreme step and spark hostile reaction not only from political opponents but also the legal fraternity.
The PPP and its allies have a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament that is needed to amend the Constitution.
Meanwhile, officials from the PPP have been dropping hints recently.
The latest one came from Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira on Wednesday when he said that establishing such a body was part of the Charter of Democracy (CoD)—a political deal between the PPP and opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) back in 2006 when the top leadership of both parties was in exile.
A similar statement was also issued in Lahore by Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa a few days back.
The PML-N, however, said that while it recognised its commitment to favor the establishment of a constitutional judicial body, it would not support it at present for two reasons.
First, PML-N Information Secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan said, the PPP must have done this at the beginning of its tenure four years ago.
“The timing makes it suspicious and not acceptable to us,” Khan said.
Second, the senator added, the move appears to have mala fide intent since it comes at a time when the executive-judiciary confrontation is at its peak.
Of the four major allied parties, at least two appear to be reluctant to endorse the government’s plan.
A senior member of PML-Quaid said his party would think about it when President Zardari shares the plan with its leadership, but added that supporting such a move might shatter the already fragile party.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Haider Abass Rizvi was not forthcoming either. He refused to comment on what he called were ‘assumptions,’ saying the party would debate the plan at its decision-making forums if and when the proposal was shared with it.
Awami National Party’s Haji Adeel said his party would endorse the idea because he thought it was expected to relieve the Supreme Court from the extra burden it had to cope with.
(Read: The continuing legal standoff)
Published In The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2012.