Let law, and not politics, have the final word

Courtesy:- Malik Muhammad Ashraf   

The Lahore High Court decision declaring the demands of the PTI and the PAT unconstitutional and restraining them from launching their march(es) in an unconstitutional manner, added another dimension to the controversy regarding the rationale, motives and justification for the ‘Azadi’ and ‘Revolution’ marches; this could have repercussions of its own. 

The PTI and the PAT ignored the decision and headed towards Islamabad contending that the court only barred an unconstitutional march and that their marches were within constitutional parameters. Some circles are of the view that the court orders are ambiguous and needed clarification from the court itself as to what it meant by unconstitutional march. A number of legal and constitutional experts view the decision as interference by the court in the country’s political affairs, contending that no demands were unconstitutional unless the party demanding them took steps that violated the law and the constitution.

I am not a legal but strongly believe that commonsense does make sense. And if commonsense is applied to the decision then answers to the foregoing points and contentions are not difficult to find. The operative and substantive part of the decision is actually the declaration of the demands as unconstitutional. If the demands are unconstitutional then it automatically renders the rallies taken out to pursue those demands as unconstitutional, irrespective of whether the court has transgressed into the political arena or not. 

Another point needed to be understood is that court decisions, whether good or bad in the eyes of the parties affected by it, are binding on them unless they appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court and are given relief. As things stand the decision is binding on both the PTI and the PAT and both are guilty of defying the court, which can have serious ramifications as already indicated in the decision itself. Both these parties by violating the court orders have not only undermined the sanctity of the judiciary but also set a very dangerous precedent which could lead to anarchy in the country. The courts have given a number of controversial decisions in the past – especially when Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was the CJ – and those decisions were implemented. How the court reacts to the violation of its decision remains to be seen.

Perhaps it would be pertinent to look at the demands and put them in a proper perspective. First let us have a look at the premise on which the PTI has built its campaign and preferred these demands. The stated reason behind Imran Khan’s ‘Azadi’ march is the alleged rigging in the 2013 elections – which according to him stole the mandate of the people – and the denial of justice to the PTI by the Election Tribunals and the SC. 

The picture portrayed by the PTI during the last fourteen months has many grey areas and loopholes. Imran has repeatedly somersaulted on his stated positions on who rigged the elections and how. His allegations still remain unsubstantiated. The delay in the disposal of the PTI’s election petitions is a result of some systemic maladies and the stay orders given by courts. 

The PTI petition filed in the SC was rejected by the court on the contention that it was not a primary court of hearing for such complaints and that the appropriate and constitutional forum for it were the Election Tribunals. That is what the constitution prescribes and as such cannot be construed as denial of justice. Granted that the rigging took place as the PTI maintains, the onus for this lies with the ECP or the interim government and not the PML-N government. The PTI is therefore targeting the wrong party and the very premise on which the entire argument has been based is terribly flawed. 

Now a few words about the demands. The PTI demands are: the prime minister should step down; parliament should be dissolved; the Election Commission should be reconstituted; an interim government of technocrats be formed and fresh elections held. The very fact that these demands are a consequence of unproven allegations, they have no legal and moral justification as held by the court and also commented upon by constitutional experts. 

The prime minister cannot be forced to resign unless he himself concludes that the country is faced with a political and constitutional crisis, a fresh mandate is necessary and consequently advises the president to dissolve parliament. No such situation exists in the country. Imran has only 33 seats in a house of 372 members – only 8.87 percent of the total membership. How can they overrule the decision of 91 percent members of parliament to continue with the present system and to defend democracy and parliament. The rest of the demands follow from the first demand and lose their legitimacy automatically.

However, since the country has been pushed into a crucible of a political crisis, it is imperative to pull it out of the quagmire and save it from veering away from the democratic path. The onus for this lies with all of the political leadership. The prime minister was right on the money when he called for an end to negative politics and subversion in the country and urged both the PTI and the PAT to work for national development. The PM has already conceded to Imran’s demand for constituting a judicial commission to probe the rigging allegations, which provides an excellent opportunity not only to ferret out the truth but also a way to resolve the present crisis.

Imran must grab this opportunity, which also provides him a face-saving exit from the tight corner he has pushed himself into. Flexibility and spirit of accommodation are the hallmarks of a democratic dispensation. Rigidity and obduracy would lead to undesirable consequences. Therefore we need to end the syndrome of destabilising elected governments before their mandated term through street agitations. This has invariably benefited undemocratic forces in the past. Those who are advocating and practicing it today must not lose sight of the fact that tomorrow they might have to endure a taste of their own medicine and the country will keep suffering from this unending madness. 

As is said there is no final word in politics and it is really heartening to know that leaders of some political parties are actively working to find a way to resolve the crisis. If Imran acts wisely in responding to their efforts it could end in a win-win situation for all stakeholders. The same holds good for Qadri who is even not a stakeholder in the present political dispensation.

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