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Saad Rasool |

The infamous speech of Mr. Nihal Hashmi – an abominable (former) Senator of PML-N – has laid bare the rotten core of politics in Pakistan. It has exposed that inner nerve of PML-N’s culture of governance, which rejects accountability and makes no concessions for State institutions or judicial esteem. Hashmi’s terror-inducing speech lends credibility to the thousands who have suffered at the hands of this ‘mafia’ ideology of governance and live in fear till today.

This is not the first (or the last) time that PML-N leadership has threatened the lives and safety of those who disagree with the King.

But has Hashmi’s speech come as a surprise to anyone? Did we think that PML-N leadership will, in defending the King’s family, abide by the contours of democratic and constitutional limitations? Does anyone truly believe that Hashmi’s speech was an act of individual expression? That it did not carry the sanction or consent of the leadership? Does anyone think that such statements are not frequently made by PML-N leaders in their private gatherings? That Mr. Nawaz Sharif (and, importantly, Ms. Maryam Nawaz) is unaware of these tirades? More to the point, does anyone believe that these diatribes (which have the potential of irking our institutions to the point of having an irreversible impact on our polity) can be made without the express permission and consent of those who control PML-N’s narrative – the Prime Minister and his daughter?

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Sadly, this is not the first (or the last) time that PML-N leadership has threatened the lives and safety of those who disagree with the King. In fact, it is now painfully clear that, for PML-N, the idea of showing solidarity and support to one’s King trumps all constraints of law and civility.

Examples? Any mention of PML-N’s barbarity, bordering on terrorism, would have to start with the episode of ransacking the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan and threatening the judges with physical harm when the August Court had the audacity to call Mr.
Nawaz Sharif in contempt of court. And then there was that time when Khawaja Saad Rafique commented on how, if he were the Interior Minister, he would have “welcomed” Tahir-ul-Qadri with a “taste” of PML-N reception. True enough, a few weeks later, the despicable Rana Sana Ullah follow through on the threat, when (under his leadership, and that of Shahbaz Sharif) the Punjab Police shot and killed 14 demonstrators (including pregnant women) in Model Town, Lahore. Not to mention minor ‘scuffles’ carried out by PML-N leaders against opposition members, including mob-fights at the floor of the National Assembly (during the budget session, a few years ago).

No member of the parliament can exercise his or her own mind to independently support or oppose a Prime Ministerial candidate, a Money Bill (most importantly the budget), or any change to the Constitution of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this idea of preferring the King over all dictates of civility and conscience is not simply a problem in our political culture. Sadly, it has also been institutionalized into our constitutional fabric. Specifically, through the 18th Constitutional Amendment, Article 63A included in the Constitution which expressly declares that any member of the Parliament who “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs” (in relation to the election of Prime/Chief Minister, vote of confidence, Money Bill or Constitution Amendment) shall “cease to be a member of the House” upon the recommendation of the “Party Head” (through the laid-down procedure).

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So, where is Democracy?

In other words, no member of the parliament can exercise his or her own mind to independently support or oppose a Prime Ministerial candidate, a Money Bill (most importantly the budget), or any change to the Constitution of Pakistan. Such decisions, on behalf of all members of the Parliament, are made by the party (or Party Head), and no opportunity for debate or deliberation need be extended in this regard.

Putting this in context to the current Parliament, three individuals – Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, and Imran Khan can sit in a room together, and pick a Prime Minister, make a budget and transform the entire Constitution, without any member of the Parliament being able to question or vote against their decisions! Is there any reason to believe that we live in a democratic system where each person’s opinion is counted as equal to every other person?

But despite the abhorrence of this proposition, Article 63A was unanimously accepted and endorsed by members of all political parties in the Parliament at the time of the passing of the 18th Amendment. And perhaps more disturbingly, when a challenge was made to the 18th (and 21st) Constitutional Amendment before the Supreme Court, no one suggested that the inclusion of Article 63A offended the ‘basic structure’ of our Constitution or democracy in any way. For, after all, what concern do parliamentary workings and democratic process have with our “basic structure”… which is better protected by defending the age-old process of appointment of the superior court judges, and by constitutionalizing the military courts!

It is time for the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan to make an example out of Nihal Hashmi, if only as a shot across the bow of this particular brand of politics.

This constitutional framework is indicative of a culture of ‘loyalty’ that rewards the boorish and the crude, the insolent and the obscene. A culture in which Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhary are the heroes. The more ridiculous and impudent their commentary, the more they are rewarded by party leadership with access and airtime. More taxpayer money is spent to grant these individuals a platform at the PID, and some of them might even find themselves rewarded with ministerial portfolios in this or some next term (in case there is one).

Read more: Will the “Aam Admi” really vote for PML-N, again?

It is not Nihal Hashmi alone, who should be blamed for his tirade. It is the culture of politics – and all those who have created it – who are to be blamed for this. Each one of us, who tolerates this brand of politics, day after day, and continues supporting it through our impotent silence.

It is time for the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan to make an example out of Nihal Hashmi, if only as a shot across the bow of this particular brand of politics. Because, in case Nihal Hashmi is meted out a concession, owing to his connectivity within the Bar and the PML-N lawyering circles, we would have missed out an unprecedented opportunity to deliver a lasting blow against this culture of depraved politics.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. This piece was first published in The Nation. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.

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