Tag Archives: National Assembly

Questions Surround New Supreme Court Order Disqualifying Prime Minister

Yousuf Raza Gilani

The Supreme Court of Pakistan removed the Prime Minister in what is known as a “short order” – essentially a court order lacking a full explanation. These orders often begin, “For reasons to be recorded later…” – a practice that seems the beg for abuse and controversy – and then proceed directly to ordering some specific action on the part of an individual or institution. In this case, though, the specific action was not given until almost two months later – and made retroactive.

On April 26, the Supreme Court issued an order “for the reasons to be recorded later” that found then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani “guilty of and convicted for contempt of court.” The Supreme Court did not declare the Prime Minister disqualified from office and sentenced him to a symbolic detention of about 30 seconds.

The Supreme Court having chosen not to disqualify the Prime Minister, the issue was then taken up by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Fehmida Mirza, who ruled that Mr. Gilani was not disqualified. That was last month.

Today, nearly two months after the Supreme Court issued its controversial conviction, a new short order, “for reasons to be recorded later,” was issued by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry – this time declaring that “Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has become disqualified from being a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)…on and from the date and time of pronouncement of the judgement of this Court dated 26.4.2012…”

This raises several very interesting questions. If the Prime Minister was disqualified pursuant to the Supreme Court’s order on April 26, why did they wait until June 19 to say so? Some have suggested that the Supreme Court was giving the Prime Minister the opportunity for appeal, but this is doubtful for a number of reasons: One, the Supreme Court could have declared the Prime Minister disqualified and then stayed the order pending appeal. But more to the point, to whom would the Prime Minister have appealed? The original order was given by a 7 member bench of the Supreme Court – there was no higher authority to appeal to.

Then there is the matter of the ruling by the Speaker of the National Assembly. If the Supreme Court had determined that Mr. Gilani was disqualified as of April 26, why did they allow Dr. Mirza to proceed with deliberations and a ruling on Mr. Gilani’s status as parliamentarian? If the Supreme Court believed that Dr. Mirza did not have the authority as Speaker of the National Assembly to issue such a ruling, why did they not issue an injunction stopping the Speaker from carrying out the act?

While these questions remain unanswered, at least until the Supreme Court delivers more than the two pages made available today, they suggest very troubling possibilities. By allowing Mr. Gilani to continue serving as Prime Minister for months, the Supreme Court has created a policy nightmare for Pakistan. Making the disqualification retroactive to April 26 means that any decisions made by the government since are effectively nullified. Pakistan has, essentially, been operating without a government for over 8 weeks.

Moreover, by allowing the Speaker of the National Assembly to deliberate and issue a ruling without comment, only to nullify that decision weeks later, the Supreme Court has undermined the authority of parliament and created confusion about fundamental issues of separation of powers and constitutional authority. What government official can now carry out their duties without the fear of Supreme Court action if the Chief Justice does not like the outcome.

This gets to what is perhaps the most troubling question of all – would the Supreme have issued this new order had the Speaker of the National Assembly herself disqualified Mr. Gilani? In other words, is Pakistan’s Supreme Court acting pursuant to due process or desired outcomes?

Pakistan passes new bill to protect women’s rights

Pakistan’s democratic National Assembly recently passed a landmark bill to protect women’s rights in Pakistan. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, and deeply rooted cultural practices will make enforcement challenging in some areas, but the legislation represents and important step forward in protecting the rights of women in Pakistan and moving the country forward towards a society that respects the rights of all citizens.

Pakistan's Senate Passes Historic 18th Amendment, Sends Democratization Bill to President

Pakistan's National Assembly

Following the National Assembly’s passage of the 18th Amendment package of constitutional reforms, Pakistan’s upper house Senate approved the measure this morning, sending it to President Zardari for ratification. This historic event is culmination of unprecedented cooperation and consensus between Pakistan’s political parties.

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American Media Misreporting Pakistan's Constitutional Reforms

As Pakistan’s parliament debates a package of constitutional reforms, it is important that these legal changes be viewed in the proper context. Unfortunately, anti-democratic talking points have crept into reporting on these developments in the American media. These talking points say that the National Assembly will be “curtailing” or “clipping” the powers of Asif Ali Zardari. In fact, the President has supported what is being discussed – a package of reforms that would redistribute powers previously seized by anti-democratic military dictators.

To understand the nuances of why this matters, a bit of historical context is in order. In 2008, Pakistan held elections that ushered in a new era of democratic rule. For the first time in decades, leaders selected by the people in open, free, and fair democratic elections governed the nation. It was a historic moment, and one that brought hope to the nation.

Despite the democratic elections, Pakistan’s government continued to operate under constitutional changes made by military dictators Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. From the outset of his term as President, Asif Ali Zardari vowed to undo the undemocratic consolidation of power that occurred under military dictatorships so that the government could operate with proper checks, balances and distribution of powers.

Over the course of the past year, Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari have worked closely to craft a package of reforms that would return the Pakistani constitution to its democratic foundation. Last November, President Zardari stunned many onlookers when he voluntarily returned command of nation’s nuclear arsenal to the office of Prime Minister, where it lay prior to being seized by Gen. Musharraf in 2002. One might expect such an act to be met with praise, but Zardari’s anti-democratic opposition pounced on the opportunity to define the act to their advantage.

Unfortunately, much of the right-wing establishment in Pakistan still sees democratization as a threat. For a President to voluntarily return authority to the proper branches of government was dubbed ‘weak’ and ‘unpopular.’ We respectfully disagree with this point of view.

Some far-right publications, like the English-language newspaper The Nation, have recently complained that Zardari is going too far in promoting democratic reforms. This has caused some to question whether right-wing groups in Pakistan are trying to derail the process of democratization before the next elections in the hopes that they can take power under the rules set by previous dictators.

Unfortunately, anti-democratic talking points have begun to appear in American reporting about Pakistan’s constitutional reforms. Take, for example, an article in the Washington Post this week that begins,

Pakistan’s Parliament is expected to pass constitutional changes in coming weeks that would vastly curtail the powers of President Asif Ali Zardari, effectively sidelining the unpopular leader of the nation’s weak civilian government.

This paragraph not only reads like an anti-democratic opposition press release, the language has a tendency to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people read that the democratically elected president is unpopular and that the constitutional reforms are meant to curtail Zardari personally, the more people begin to doubt the democratically elected president, and democratization more generally.

This is not unusual, of course, as we have seen recently the same phenomenon in American politics when opponents of President Obama’s health care bill repeatedly stated that health care reform was unpopular with the American people, only to see the bill’s popularity skyrocket when it became clear that it would pass. Whether American or Pakistani, people like to support a winning team.

Pakistani democracy is at a crucial moment in history – democratic and anti-democratic forces are wrestling over the future of the nation. Will Pakistan grow to become a free, democratic stronghold in South Asia? Or will right-wing forces turn Pakistan backwards towards the rule of Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf?

We respectfully ask that American journalists consider their words when writing about democratic reforms, and recognize that the package of constitutional reforms currently under discussion in Islamabad is not a slight to President Zardari, but the culmination of difficult and humble choices made by the democratically elected President to return powers to their proper offices, ultimately putting his nation before himself.