Leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have begun to advise party chief Nawaz Sharif against blind support for judicial activism.
The main opposition party has sided with the higher judiciary in the standoff between the government and the apex court, which has begun to reach a crucial point once again – however, recent developments have led to a reconsideration among the PML-N’s hierarchy.
PML-N insiders told The Express Tribune that several central party leaders had cautioned Nawaz to be calculated in his backing for the judiciary, warning of a slippery slope. “A significant number of people in the party feel the judiciary in its decisions recently, and [Chief Justice] Iftikhar Chaudhry in his statements, have crossed certain red lines. This is not a good omen for the democratic system,” said an official.
Many top leaders have questioned the rationality behind supporting a decision to send an elected prime minister home and possibly overrule laws enacted by parliament. According to insiders, Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Ayaz Amir, Tehmina Daultana, Ahsan Iqbal and many others are among those who want Nawaz to take a calculated approach. Officials said even Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was “not positive” about recent statements by Justice Chaudhry that the Constitution and not parliament, was supreme.
Sources said Nawaz heard these concerns from party associates at a meeting he chaired immediately after Yousaf Raza Gilani was removed from office by the apex court. “There is a limit to everything, whether good or bad … if all this continues in the same way, I tell you nobody will be able to rule Pakistan. What if we come to power tomorrow and this happens to us?” a top leader told Nawaz and his colleagues.
Though Sharif did not give any final word on his party members’ concerns, a slight change in the PML-N’s vocal support for the judiciary has been evident since that meeting. Some leaders have openly said that limits for institutions should be defined.
Insiders said this new chain of thought was instrumental in bringing the PPP and PML-N close enough to agree on Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).
And, more importantly, they added, both the government and the opposition are beginning talks to bring in a caretaker setup for holding fresh parliamentary polls – because they believe if they don’t decide now, somebody else will, as a PPP leader stated.
While Nawaz remains undecided, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and some of his associates disagree with these emerging concerns. They believe the party benefited hugely from supporting Chief Justice Chaudhry ahead of the 2008 general elections – and that they can bet on the same for the upcoming polls.
The more cautious camp is of the opinion that, while backing the apex court might give the party a comparative advantage in central Punjab, it would not gain the same in the rest of the country.
The chief justice’s controversial questioning of parliament’s supremacy came in the backdrop of the Contempt of Court Act, a new law which protects holders of high public offices from contempt charges. Legal experts suggest the Supreme Court may declare it contradictory to the Constitution.
The court has already accepted for hearing petitions challenging the law which could save Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf from a possible disqualification.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2012.