Political parties’ inability to mobilize masses and dependence on the Supreme Court to solve difficult political questions can be seen as a major reason that the judiciary has grown in influence
The current criticism being levelled at the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhury, has to be critically examined in the context of the overall crisis of politics in Pakistan.
For the first, it is important to note that there was not a vote of no-confidence in the parliament to remove Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. In fact, it was three judges from the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissing the Prime Minister by declaring him disqualified for his august office.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is getting a lot of bad [liberal]press while critics, including a retired Indian Supreme Court judge, have voiced their concerns. The major concern is Supreme Court’s encroachment of parliamentary powers. However, this is a typical problem facing post-colonial states.
Political systems in the so-called developing countries are said to be characterized, in the words of Rotimi Suberu, by ‘both sectional divisions and intense elite competitions for political and material rewards’. In Pakistan, instead of mobilizing masses the opposition political parties are depending on the Supreme Court to score a ‘victory’. This inability to mobilize masses and dependence on the Supreme Court to solve difficult political questions can be seen as a major reason the judiciary has grown in influence.
Thus, the courts are being nudged to doing the dirty work of political parties that are unwilling to develop their own capacity to solve the political issues even when these parties genuinely want to agitate.
For instance, the right-wing of the political spectrum wanted to agitate on issues like the 18th Amendment, power-cuts, the Memogate scandal, the OBL affair, or NATO supplies. But almost in every case, these political parties of the opposition knocked on the door of Supreme Court instead of genuinely building any movement.
We can divide the oppositional political parties in two groupings. The PML-N represents oppositional elements from within the fragile political set up. It wants to save whatever farcical system is at hand. In contrast, a host of other parties such as Imran Khan’s PTI which boycotted the previous general elections, have rejected mainstream coalition-based governments in the provinces and at the Centre. These parties depended upon popular media and constitute an opposition from without. Both have certain advantages and disadvantages in the power play, but what unites both is their fight to oust PPP-led government.
Secondly, there is the institutional crisis snowballed over a period of time as a result of extended military stints in power. Every time military is in power, the military regime taxes vital institutions of the states. While under military regimes the military as an institution grows in influence and builds its capacity, all other organs of the state and civil society are crippled.
Now when military is not directly in power, the Supreme Court stands above parliamentary process. Unfortunately, there is no discussion as to how unbridled powers of an active Supreme Court will impact the general functioning of the system. Will it help achieve the goal of civilian supremacy?
Apparently backed by popular media, an all powerful judiciary not answerable to any representative institution, but bent upon setting the rules of the games, will only undermine the democratic process.
The Author is a journalist who blogs at tigerali.wordpress.com and tweets under the username Sherakhan46. .