EDITORIAL: Unprincipled politics - Friday, October 29, 2010

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\10\29\story_29-10-2010_pg3_1

Speaking at a press conference in Peshawar, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has said that if the government did not end corruption, improve the law and order situation, arrest the price hike and implement Supreme Court judgements, change would become inevitable. When asked about the meeting between Federal Law Minister Babar Awan and PML-Q Punjab President Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, he said that morality and ethics should take precedence over politics. While it is correct that ethics are conspicuous by their absence from Pakistan’s politics, it is not just the PPP that has abandoned them; this phenomenon could be observed across the board in all political parties. Take, for instance, PML-N. While criticising the PPP for unprincipled politics, Mian Nawaz Sharif forgot his own brother Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s meeting with PML-Q’s information secretary Tariq Azeem to discuss the possibility of cooperation. Is shaking hands with those who ditched PML-N to ride on the coattails of a military dictator principled politics? It may be expedient for an opposition party to question the government’s performance and call it corrupt, but the stories of PML-N’s past and present corruption are part of urban legend and not very different from those of the PPP.

PPP’s overtures to PML-Q have raised dissenting voices within both parties, but in this game of politics of power, devoid of any guiding principles and ethics, the top leadership of both is perhaps looking to secure a better position. Ideologically, both parties are diametrically opposed to each other and no amount of explanation could wash away the stigma of abandoning principles to outdo your opponents, which was the hallmark of politics during the 1990s and which gave rise to evils such as horse-trading and floor-crossing. PML-N is obviously not happy because the coming together of the PPP and PML-Q may jeopardise its seat of power in the country’s biggest province, Punjab. This may be PPP’s counter-move to prevent the possibility of the unification of the different factions of the Muslim League, efforts for which are being led by Pir Pagara. A unified PML would be more difficult for PPP to deal with than its many factions. MQM, on the other hand, also seems wary, although the PPP has assured that it would remain a coalition partner.

The PPP-PML-Q meeting indicates a shifting political landscape. It cannot be said with certainty whether the system would be able to withstand a reshuffling of partners. For some months now, PML-N’s rhetoric has taken on a strident note, signalling a deviation from its previous posture of being a ‘friendly’ opposition. In the current atmosphere of wheeling and dealing of unscrupulous politics, the PPP and PML-N seem to be on the verge of parting ways. If that happens, the shifting of the political landscape will accelerate, in which every political actor would try to position himself according to the emerging situation. Regardless of which party joins or leaves the ruling coalition, such a change could destabilise the democratic edifice and is therefore not in the interest of the country. If the system does not survive till the next general elections, it would be a big victory for the undemocratic forces and strengthen the impression that politicians are incapable of running the country. If the polity continues down the path of its new configuration, it would leave ugly scars on the credibility of those who chant slogans for democracy but chase power in practice.

The whole edifice of democracy, which came into being after the 2008 elections, is shaking. It seems that our political parties have not learnt from the past, when undemocratic forces took advantage of the divisions among them. It is perhaps no longer possible to arrest the momentum of the process that has been set in motion. Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope that whatever the outcome, it does not undermine the interests of democracy, the people and the country. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: A historic win

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) elections on Wednesday saw Asma Jahangir win despite the fact that her opponents had started a maligning campaign against her. Ms Jahangir secured 834 votes while her main opponent Ahmed Awais got 796 votes. She has become the first woman president of the SCBA. Ms Jahangir’s victory was celebrated all across the country. Ms Jahangir is not just a leading light of the legal fraternity, she is one of the most vocal advocates of human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, democracy and justice.

One of the reasons for those opposing Ms Jahangir in the legal fraternity is because of her criticism of the bar and bench for getting embroiled in politics. After the successful movement led by the lawyers for the restoration of the judiciary, it was expected that the lawyers would go back to practicing law and the judiciary would work towards strengthening its institution. Instead, we saw them encroaching on the space of other state institutions, especially the executive. It was in this backdrop that the core leadership of the lawyers’ movement like Ali Ahmad Kurd, Munir A Malik, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, etc, correctly distanced themselves from the restored judiciary. Except for Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Ms Jahangir was supported by all the leading lights of the lawyers’ movement. Mr Ahsan’s role was dubious in these SCBA elections because he surreptitiously supported Ahmed Awais. Ms Jahangir was accused of being the PPP’s candidate even though there is no truth to such allegations.

The judiciary’s newfound assertive activism has been a cause of concern and controversy lately, especially in the NRO and the 18th Amendment cases. The SCBA’s role during this time was also criticised since former president SCBA, Qazi Anwar, openly opposed the government and sided with the judiciary instead of remaining neutral, which is what is expected of any bar association. Some sections of the legal fraternity have tried to use the judiciary to destabilise the PPP government and some of the lawyers from the bars have been accused of trying to take advantage of their closeness to the restored judiciary. This may not be the judges’ fault, but the attitude of the bar was questionable. Qazi Anwar damaged the credibility of the SCBA by being partisan even though a bar is not supposed to be an appendage of the bench.

After her victory, Ms Jahangir asserted that she would not take dictation from anyone, be it the government or the judges. It is hoped that with Ms Jahangir’s victory, the bar would re-establish its independence and keep an appropriate distance from the bench. During her tenure, it is expected that the imbalance created by her predecessor would be done away with and the dignity of the bar restored. *

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