DailyTimes EDITORIAL : Virtual judicial coup

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\06\20\story_20-6-2012_pg3_1
The Supreme Court’s (SC’s) verdict on the petitions challenging the ruling of the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) that rejected the argument that Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani stood disqualified after being convicted and sentenced for contempt of court has pronounced that he does stand disqualified, not only from the premiership, but from membership of parliament as well. Not just that, the SC in its short order has laid down that he cannot stand for election for five years. To that end, the SC has sent instructions to the Election Commission (EC) to issue a notification to that effect. Meantime the PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), which happened to be meeting when the verdict was announced, revealed its decisions on the crisis through a press conference by PPP leaders. The gist of the CEC’s decisions was that despite having reservations about the SC’s verdict, they had accepted the court’s finding that the conviction and sentencing till the rising of the court of Gilani for contempt on April 26 meant that he was no longer the PM, and with retrospective effect, had been removed on and since that date. The PPP has appealed to its workers and supporters to remain calm and restrained, despite the fact that the verdict is bound to inflame opinion in the PPP and allied camp. The CEC has empowered party Co-chairperson President Asif Ali Zardari to take whatever decisions he thinks fit regarding a replacement for Gilani. The intriguing question of course is whether the new PM will suffer the same pressure from the SC to write the letter to the Swiss authorities regarding President Asif Ali Zardari that the court was insisting on Gilani writing, and refusal to comply with which had attracted the contempt conviction for the former PM. In that case, the looming confrontation between state institutions, which began as a confrontation between the judiciary and the executive, could expand to now a confrontation between the judiciary and parliament as well. After all, the SC’s verdict overruling the Speaker of the NA too has set an unprecedented example, one that will reverberate in our jurisprudence for a long time to come. Questions have also been raised whether all the decisions and acts of the former PM since April 26 to date stand. The most important of these acts was the passing of the budget. It is possible that the detailed judgement may throw more light on this matter. Normally, courts are mindful that retrospective judgements should not disrupt things done and transactions closed to an extent that causes greater difficulties.

Yousaf Raza Gilani was unanimously elected PM after the 2008 elections, arguably in the context of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in end 2007, a tragedy that led to widespread unrest and riots, especially in Sindh. The sympathy factor had a great deal to do with the results of the 2008 elections in which, despite garnering only a plurality, the PPP was the only party in a position to form a coalition government. The other factor that worked in favour of the consensus that surrounded Gilani’s election as PM was the relatively good relations at the time between the PPP and the main opposition party the PML-N. By 2009, those relations had already soured to the point where the coalition saw the departure of the PML-N and its open opposition to the seeming reluctance of the PPP to restore Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the deposed superior judiciary. Since then, the impression has been unmistakable that the SC has tilted more against the incumbent PPP than in any other direction, even resorting to picking and choosing which cases to hear on a priority or fast track basis. This has invited criticism of the judiciary for alleged bias. True or not, such criticism may well find a fresh lease of life after the SC, in an unprecedented verdict, has deposed a sitting PM. Such ‘treatment’ at the hands of the judiciary is likely to resurrect the party’s memory of past injustices at the hands of the judiciary, the most poignant example being the case of Z A Bhutto. This verdict will have legal as well as political implications. Whether our nascent democratic system will survive these fresh storms can only be left to the imagination at this point. *

SECOND EDITORIAL : Walking on a tightrope

Happy at its victory in the Egyptian presidential elections, the Muslim Brotherhood now faces a power struggle with the armed forces ruling the country for the last 60 years. In choosing what was perceived as the lesser evil, the Egyptian people sent a clear message to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) by not voting for its candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, the former prime minister of Hosni Mubarak. What started in Tahrir Square 15 months back has ended with the swearing in of Mohammad Morsi Thursday as the next President. Disoriented by the political developments in the wake of the revolution that saw Hosni Mubarak ousted after 30 years in power, the Egyptian people are still waiting for the army to return to the barracks. The crowds that rallied spontaneously in Tahrir Square at the height of the movement failed at the next stage of political organisation to mount an effective challenge to the military and the Islamists going into the elections. Resultantly the forces that were already organised and hardened by decades of struggle, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, took the lead. Resented by the secular-liberal-progressive ‘revolutionaries’ of Tahrir Square, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) could end up dividing Egypt even further. In an effort to allay its opponents’ fears, the Muslim Brotherhood has categorically denied any intent to impose Sharia or of assuming strategic posts such as Foreign Affairs and the Interior Ministry. It wants involvement in services that could relate it directly to the people, like health and social affairs.

The million-dollar question is, would the Muslim Brotherhood be able to run the government without military interference? Interestingly, as the presidential vote went to the FJP, the ruling SCAF amended the constitutional declaration it had issued last year, resuming legislative powers and restricting the authority of the president, thereby consolidating the ‘coup’ that started with the dissolution of parliament. What is termed as a de facto martial law empowered the SCAF to hold the effective reins of power. It has endowed itself with the authority to pick a panel of its choice to write the new constitution.

In the midst of the Arab Spring that has effected sweeping changes in the regional political set-up, Egypt is in a bind to make things work on democratic lines. The Brotherhood has to live up to its claim of dispensing with radicalisation and perhaps adopt the Turkish model to render both tendencies — religion and secularism — able to co-exist, even if uneasily, in the new Egypt struggling to emerge from the womb of the old. *

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