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Pakistan drifts as power games roll on

Publication Date : 29-06-2012


In a move that should quieten, at least for the time being, the chorus of liberal-minded cynics who call Pakistan a failed or failing state, its Supreme Court has established that the rule of law does prevail. Last week, the court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding a seat in Parliament from the date of his contempt of court conviction on April 26. This was for having failed to pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People's Party. This dramatic denouement would have been unnecessary had Pakistan's National Assembly acted on the earlier court ruling. Given its refusal to do so - with the Speaker declaring that Gilani was not disqualified despite his conviction for contempt of court - the court has stepped in to make the ambit of its authority clear.

Pakistan's well-wishers will welcome this development because the distribution of powers among the judiciary, the legislature and the executive lies at the heart of a functioning democracy. It is not material whether the Supreme Court's action is a case of an activist judiciary upholding the will of the people - this should be the job of the elected legislature. The essential point is that the court has reiterated its integrity, which would have been called sharply into question had a contempt of court conviction been no more than a token slap on a powerful wrist. Instead, Gilani's hope of being Pakistan's longest-serving premier has been cut short.

True, one judicial swallow does not a national summer make. Regrettably, Pakistan's political class is likely to continue being embroiled in the scandals and other controversies that tarnish the country's image as a democracy so badly. Indeed, it is said that the powerful military, long accustomed to cutting civilian institutions down to size, is smirking that they are doing it to each other now. But even if this is true, the fact is that an important change at the top has occurred without military intervention. That in itself is cause for celebration given the old jibe that while most countries have armies, this army has a country in Pakistan. Importantly, the Supreme Court has reasserted that it is in the Constitution that power lies ultimately.

Of course, the court's demonstration of its authority should not spur it to encroach into the spheres of the legislature and the executive. This could occur if the volatility of public life makes judicial interventions critical and frequent. Ultimately, it is up to Pakistan's politicians to live up to their mandate as guardians of the people's needs and aspirations. A sound economy and stability will remain out of reach if the power games continue.


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