News Analysis |
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi took his party PML-N’s tirade against the judiciary to the Parliament on Monday when he openly criticized the judiciary on the National Assembly’s (NA) floor. Abbasi criticized the judiciary’s role in executive matters and censured judicial activism. He alleged that courts are severely affecting the functioning of his government. On Tuesday, Maryum Aurengzaib, Minister for Information and Daniyal Aziz, Minister for Privatization joined him in criticising the court. Making critical remarks against the judiciary, cannot be declared contempt of court when said in Parliament.
The anti-judiciary diatribe was started by PML-N after the 28th July Panama Papers case verdict of the Supreme Court (SC), which disqualified Nawaz Sharif who was the prime minister of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif has since adopted an anti-judiciary rhetoric and criticized the SC decision sternly. His daughter, Maryam Nawaz has been side by side with her father in lambasting the SC.
The contempt case is being heard against the duo in both IHC and LHC but even if those courts take any decision against them, their ability to enforce the decisions is uncertain.
Sharif has held a number of public rallies since his disqualification in which he repeated his anti-judiciary arguments and flaunted his public support as the people’s verdict against the SC. PM Abbasi also accused the judiciary of interfering in matters of the legislative branch by attempting to overturn an amendment passed by the parliament. He was referring to the Elections Act 2017 which is under review by the SC.
He requested the parliament to decide whether they had the power to decide the matters of legislation or will they always need prior approval of the SC. Previously, the verbal onslaught of the PML-N was limited to public rallies and press conferences, with the PM’s rant against the judiciary, the issue and the inflammatory language has been raised inside the parliament. A few opposition parties rallied behind the PM in his anti-judiciary rant.
PML-N’s ally Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai took the floor after the PM and alleged that the armed forces and intelligence agencies have been interfering in the upcoming Senate elections and accused Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of toppling the PML-N government in Balochistan.
However, Khursheed Shah, leader of the opposition party in Parliament, said that while the judiciary can interpret legislation, it has not got authority to reject it. He also criticized parliamentarian as having violated the sanctity of Parliament and stated that the consequences of ‘personalised’ legislation are never good.
The IHC summoned PEMRA for broadcasting anti-judicial speeches of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. The parliament might remove the clauses for contempt of court entirely from the parliament which will make the judiciary powerless to enforce its decisions.
Prime time TV shows yesterday evening were all predicting an imminent clash of institutions if parliament makes an attempt to curtail the powers of the independent judiciary through potential constitutional changes. The constitution of Pakistan while upholding parliamentary supremacy, it allows that if a single party takes hold of both the Senate and the NA, they can pass any legislation of their choice.
While the SC has the authority to overturn any decision that goes against the basic ideology of Pakistan, they are bound by the constitution itself which is in the hands of the parliament. PML-N will become the biggest party in both the Senate and the NA after the Senate elections on 3rd March.
Media analysts claimed that it all appears to be an attempt to change the constitution so that Nawaz Sharif can become the prime minister of Pakistan once again. The military was also accused by parliament of interfering in political matters.
Read more: The real difference between PTI and PML-N
If the parliament manages to succeed in curbing the powers of the judiciary and the military, it would result in the breakdown of the trichotomy of powers as one pillar of the state: judiciary would be out of the picture, and there would be no check on power. Media experts worry that such a democracy would turn into a civilian dictatorship as is seen all over Africa.
In the other likely scenario as predicted by analysts, the judiciary and military will fight back against the assault of the executive and the legislative, and Pakistan. Legal experts advise that the balance of power should be maintained for democracy to prosper in the country.
The apex court has also accepted contempt petitions against Tallal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz. SC’s reluctance to take contempt petitions against the Sharif family might be an attempt to appease them and avoid any ‘optics’ of conducting an undemocratic move.
The constitution allows the SC to take suo moto notices of cases pertaining to fundamental human rights and that does not amount to interfering in the powers of the executive. It also allows the SC to review the amendments of the parliament and avoid any contradictions with the constitution of Pakistan.
So far opposition parties argue that the SC has been soft with the PML-N, and despite repeated onslaught made by the two, no contempt of court petition is being taken against Nawaz Sharif or his daughter Maryam Nawaz. Other PML-N leaders have not been so lucky, former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi was disqualified for 5 years with one year imprisonment.
The apex court has also accepted contempt petitions against Tallal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz. SC’s reluctance to take contempt petitions against the Sharif family might be an attempt to appease them and avoid any ‘optics’ of conducting an undemocratic move. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) and Lahore High Court (LHC) do not share the reluctance of the SC and both have accepted petitions of contempt against the Sharif family.
The IHC summoned PEMRA for broadcasting anti-judicial speeches of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. The contempt case is being heard against the duo in both IHC and LHC but even if those courts take any decision against them, their ability to enforce the decisions is uncertain. The parliament might remove the clauses for contempt of court entirely from the parliament which will make the judiciary powerless to enforce its decisions.