THE decision in the Panama case disqualifying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is quite unique and unprecedented due to the fact that it is not based on the prayers made by the petitioner for seeking disqualification of the Prime Minister, which many believe was not a sustainable and solid ground to disqualify an elected Prime Minister. Unfortunately it has almost become a ritual to target the elected representatives through judges on the basis of decisions that have not been judged as enviable and worth emulating by the legal and constitutional experts as well as history.
The decision has been widely commented upon within and outside Pakistan and perhaps it would be pertinent to briefly mention some of the discourses for the benefit of the readers. An article on the editorial pages of The New York Times said “ The verdict came as no surprise. Even though Mr. Sharif was not named in the Panama leaks, and there is no evidence that he abused public office for private gain, the judges disqualified him for hiding assets, and therefore, not being honest, an insidious constitutional requirement for being a member of Parliament. They had already made their intentions clear by turning the inquiry into a zealous inquisition into his moral character, with the head of the five member bench disparagingly comparing the Sharif family to the mafia.
Pakistan’s superior judiciary — made up of the Supreme Court and five High Courts — has increasingly asserted its independence and power in recent years. But it has an abysmally poor record of defending democracy against authoritarian interventions. While there have been a handful of dissenting judges, the Supreme Court has legalized each one of Pakistan’s three successful military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999 under the doctrine of necessity. The court has set a dangerous judicial precedent that can easily be used to unseat elected leaders in the future.”
Bloomberg in an op-ed titled “Pakistan’s politics Fail Again” said nobody should be above law but the circumstances surrounding the judgment are troubling. Pakistan’s court should not do the work of voters. Its anti-graft bodies could use more resources and greater independence but politicians should resolve their political difference in parliament and through the ballot box.”
Dawn, a prestigious and independent daily of Pakistan in its editorial of July 30 analysing the decision said” The consensus in expert and independent circles is twofold and clear: Nawaz Sharif has been stripped of Premiership on troublingly narrow legal grounds and the judgment has the undesirable potential to upend the democratic process in the country. Mr. Sharif both as a citizen and as the legitimately elected Prime Minister, had a justifiable expectation of fair and proportionate justice. That does not appear to be the case in the five member bench’s final judgment and it has profound consequences for the future of the office of the Prime Minister and the parliament itself.”
A number of eminent constitutionalists have also expressed their views on the decision and majority of them have expressed grave reservations on it. A renowned human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir termed it a bad decision and even went to the extent of saying if she were Nawaz Sharif she would not have accepted it. Some lawyers have also been critical about the way the SC handled this case and now its decision to appoint a monitoring judge for the references that it has ordered to be filed against the deposed Prime Minister and his family members saying it was unprecedented and against internationally accepted norms of justice.
I, in my capacity as free lance journalist have also been trying to ascertain as to what the people at large think about the SC decision. My honest assessment is that there is a permeating view that Nawaz’s exit from power has been orchestrated by the powers that be and the Judges of the SC as usual have played an obliging role. Though it is a very unfortunate perception about the judges of the apex court but the reality is that this impression has been reinforced by the judges of the superior court by repeatedly legitimising military coups in the past. It has not added to the prestige of the judges and the apex court.
Many including myself believe that Panama was a political case and the SC should not have accepted the petitions in the first place after refusing in the first instance to entertain them. In my columns I have been repeatedly saying that whatever the decision of the court ultimately, the judiciary will also not emerge unscathed from it as it would have wider political repercussions. There are already indications of that.
The politicians and political parties who filed petitions are rejoicing their victory at the moment but in the long run they would be cursing themselves for what they have done. Tomorrow they could also be the victims of the same saga. They have actually added to their own vulnerabilities and abdicated the powers of Parliament to the judiciary which would surely have a debilitating impact on democracy and consequently strengthen the hands of anti-democratic forces.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.