ISLAMABAD: Back-up plans have never been a key PPP strength but drastic times call for drastic measures.
The latest from party circles is that if the Supreme Court shoots down any provision of the 18th constitutional amendment, the PPP will dig its heels in for battle. Party insiders say the government plans to appeal against an adverse decision and, if that doesn’t work either, the government will place the issue of the SC’s ‘transgressing its constitutional limits’ before the parliament. And this time, the PPP’s counting its chicken before they hatch.
“We’re positive all political parties will stand by us to defend the supremacy of the parliament,” gloats the insider. The decision comes as a fivemember bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk gears up to hear five constitutional petitions challenging the 18th amendment from Wednesday onwards.
The petitions were respectively filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association, PML-Z’s Ejazul Haq, lawyer Nadeem Ahmed and Watan Party chairman Barrister Zafrullah Khan.
Among the main issues raised by the petitioners are the new procedure outlined for the appointment of SC judges, the composition of the judicial commission and the doing away of the constitutional requirement for intra-party elections.
But emboldened by the unanimous approval of the amendment by the National Assembly and the Senate, PPP leaders insist the Supreme Court can’t strike down a constitutional amendment.
“In a democracy, it’s the parliament that’s sovereign, not the judiciary or the executive or any other branch of the government,” insists PPP information secretary Fauzia Wahab. “The Supreme Court can’t strike down any provision of the constitution; this is clearly written in the constitution so the question about what the PPP will do if the court strikes down the 18th amendment is a hypothetical question.”
Besides, argue others, when the 17th amendment was challenged by the Pakistan Lawyers’ Forum, a five- member bench of the Supreme Court, including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Justice Javed Iqbal, declared the court didn’t have the authority to strike down a constitutional amendment.
But neither judge is on the fivemember bench. “They will be, if the amendment is shot down and we file an appeal because then, a larger bench will have to be formed,” gloats another insider. And if that too fails, there are always the people. “The PPP believes in the supremacy of the constitution; the party has always tried to uphold the principles of democracy and will continue to work in the interest of democratic principles,” says presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar.
But party strategists think all the disparate elements within the legislature will come together to defend their turf against a marauding court. And they’re counting PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif among their would-be supporters. “Although opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says the PML-N will remain neutral in case of a clash between the Supreme Court and the parliament, when push comes to shove, the PML-N will have to back the parliament,” insists one PPP leader.
“Nawaz Sharif has as much a stake in a strong parliament as we do.” The PML-N, however, refuses to fully endorse this assessment. “The matter is sub judice so we shouldn’t speculate about it but we’re confident that the matter will be decided on merit because the 18th amendment is no ordinary law; it reflects the grand national political consensus,” says PML-N spokesperson Ahsan Iqbal. “If the 17th constitutional amendment was not struck down, how can the 18th be struck down? That too, when it has restored the 1973 constitution?” wonder Iqbal.
But who will his party side with, if matters come to a head? “We hope the situation will not end up in a confrontation between the judiciary and the parliament because confrontation will be disastrous for the democratic system in Pakistan,” cautions Iqbal. The PPP’s legal woes began when the Supreme Court shot down the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance in December last year.
A few months later, the court started haranguing the National Accountability Court and the government’s law officers to reopen cases of corruption against NRO beneficiaries, including one President Asif Zardari. PPP leaders and activists insist they’re being treated unfairly by the court. “The constitution says the president has constitutional immunity, the Swiss courts believe this; why is the court then allowing itself to be used against the PPP by a section of the media and lawyers?” cries a senior PPP leader.
Challenges to President Zardari’s electoral eligibility and against the 18th amendment are works of the same lobby, he insists. “If we aren’t the only party being targeted, why hasn’t the court taken up Asghar Khan’s petition about electoral rigging and the distribution of money by the ISI to some anti-PPP politicians, including Nawaz Sharif?”
But the best part about these lawsuits, gloat PPP members, is how they’ve helped the party reinforce its image. “At the time of the NRO judgement, it looked like it was the PPP versus the Supreme Court; now if the court strikes down any provision of the 18th amendment, it will be the parliament versus the Supreme Court,” they exult. And this dynamic will help the party stave off the court.
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