COMMENT: The Constitution alone is supreme —Mohammad Jamil - Saturday, April 16, 2011

The problem in Pakistan is that major political parties are being run as the top leadership’s fiefdoms, dynasties or family enterprises, and one does not see democracy in any of these parties 

The constitution is said to be a social contract between the government and the governed in which the latter gives up sovereignty to the former in return for civil rights and liberties. It also defines the powers of the various pillars and organs of the state for its smooth functioning. In Pakistan, a section of intellectuals and constitutional experts hold the view that parliament is supreme and it has the right to frame or amend the constitution. In a constitutional polity (which we are), it is indeed the constitution, which is supreme, whereas every pillar of the state insists on its primacy. The fact of the matter is that none is superior over others, none is inferior to others, all are subservient to the constitution and all are bound to follow its dictates and stipulations. No doubt, constitutional disputes and differences occur even in entrenched democracies. However, the incidence of such tiffs is indeed reduced to the minimum if all the state pillars respect the supremacy of the constitution and abide by it in letter and spirit.

Another school of thought believes that it is the prerogative of the apex court to delete any existing article or any amendment made to the constitution by parliament. Nevertheless, the majority of constitutional experts consider it an encroachment on the domain of parliament. Justice John G Roberts, the present chief justice of the US, during the hearing of a case declared: “Umpires do not make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” It has to be mentioned that the US and the West took three centuries to achieve that state of consciousness. Having said this, Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is committed to give the nation a clean, efficient and independent judiciary, and he is also determined to cleanse the lower judiciary where citizens have their first contact with judges in their quest to seek justice.

Historical evidence suggests that from the tribal and feudal epochs (with their own particular political systems of kingship), tribal jirgas and dictatorships, the world has progressed to the present democratic order based on the system of ‘one man one vote’, and elected governments of fixed tenure. But, whenever leaders with vested interests or ruling classes representing the status quo tried to stem change, there was economic turbulence, social upheaval and anarchy. In 17th century England, the trading community forged unity in its ranks to wage a struggle against the absolute powers of the king and influence of the clergy. The country was ready for a new order, which gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and, consequently, the capitalist mode of production — the infrastructure on which the superstructure of democracy was built.

The Westminster model of parliamentary democracy was the first of the modern systems that evolved, as the new classes associated with the market economy emerged. This British model was, at best, a compromise model after seesaw battles had been fought between the ‘royalists’ of the British aristocracy and the representatives of the emerging new classes. It was a system that finally gave the commoners the right to elect lower house members and government, while retaining the king as a figurehead, and the House of Lords as the upper house where the country’s hereditary feudal representatives sat on the basis of their titles. The system is successful in England as the country is developed, and it caters to the state’s needs at home and abroad. In a country like Pakistan, there is a need to improve upon the system of elections so that participating in elections is not only the preserve of the opulent classes, and commoners can also participate in the election process.

However, the problem in Pakistan is that major political parties are being run as the top leadership’s fiefdoms, dynasties or family enterprises, and one does not see democracy in any of these parties. After deletion of sub-clause 4 of Article 17 that read: “Every political party shall, subject to law, hold intra-party elections to elect its office-bearers and party leaders”, the dictatorship of the party leadership has further been reinforced. In the 18th Amendment, Article 63-A, with regard to disqualification of a member on the grounds of defection, has empowered the party head, instead of the parliamentary party leader. From now onwards the party head will have the right to send a disqualification reference of an elected member of the assembly. The self-styled custodians of democracy have always been authoritarian and arrogant leaders, who dictate party policies and wish to be elected unopposed as lifetime chairmen or rahnuma of their parties.

Political eminences do not see the people’s anguish, despair and despondency reigning in every nook and corner of the land, as the pillars of state are embroiled in unnecessary tiffs and squabbles. Whatever their mutual grouses, they must listen to one another with patience, sobriety and broadmindedness, and seek the guidance of the constitution. Difference of opinion should not become an issue of personal prestige for any of the disputants; the nation’s greater good should be a priority in their minds. If they do not, they will only be alienating themselves further from the citizenry that, in reality, is already losing faith in all of them. Our peers in the media too should hold their horses. Instead of cheerleaders, they should now become moderators. They should stop pitting one organ of the state against another, or one political party against another. Sanity must prevail all around. In that alone lies our nation’s good.

There is yet another misunderstanding: that government servants are personal servants of the politicians, and they treat them as such. Quaid-e-Azam had, of course, advised the civil and military bureaucracy to obey the government, but at the same time he had impressed upon the leaders and politicians not to interfere in their working or bring to bear political pressure upon them, as it would lead to corruption, bribery and nepotism. The elected leaders and government servants are servants of the people. But our political eminences show utter disregard to the people’s needs and demands. Though the ‘leading lights’ talk about democracy, justice, rule of law and constitutionalism, yet their actions are at odds with their words. Today, economic disparity, socio-economic injustice, political instability, internecine conflicts between politicians, rampant corruption, rising crime rate, war against terrorism, target killings, energy crisis and an ineffective criminal justice system are the challenges facing the nation, which need to be met through unity and harmony between the pillars of the state.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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