March 26, 2008

For a judicious move

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 3:23 pm
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MARCH  26, 2008


MONDAY in Islamabad was a day of euphoria, first at the National Assembly where the House elected its new leader by a thumping majority and shortly thereafter at the capital’s Judges’ Colony, which had remained out of bounds for all and sundry since the Nov 3 imposition of emergency rule by Gen Musharraf. It took only a verbal order by the prime minister-elect for the capital police to remove the barricades and set the confined judges free in their own homes. The absence from the prime minister’s oath-taking ceremony at the presidency on Tuesday of the People’s Party co-chairman and other ruling coalition leaders continued to reflect the winds of change sweeping Islamabad.

Amidst all this excitement, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry struck a sober note by advising his supporters who had come to cheer him at his residence to move cautiously in their pursuit of reinstatement of the judiciary. In Lahore, Justice Khalil Ramday, too, spoke wise words. The judiciary’s case now rests with the elected and a fairly representative parliament. The ruling coalition parties have made their disparate positions clear on the issue of the judges’ restoration to their pre-Nov 3 positions. The PPP and the PML-N have, under the Bhurban Declaration, committed themselves to work on the matter through parliament. The presidency, for once, has also resisted the temptation to show a hurried reaction to the move. All these are sobering thoughts, which must continue to inform the interim period, pending the legislature’s formal take-up of the matter.

In spite, nay rather because, of its multi-party formation, the emerging government presents a rare opportunity to legislate on national issues in a way that goes beyond the immediate setting of the record straight. Let parliament decide the future of the sacked judges through a consensus among all stakeholders, by all means; but let it also not miss the bigger picture, and put in place a democratically agreed upon mechanism to ensure the appointment and independence of the judges henceforth. It is imperative that a deliberation-based, and not a majority-vote bulldozing of legislation, approach is applied to the various amendments made to the Constitution at the behest of a president in military uniform. It is hoped, now that President Musharraf has donned the civilian mantle and held fairly credible elections whose results have been accepted by all, he will gracefully accept and live with the consequences of the many choices he has had the opportunity to make since taking power in a military coup in 1999. The prerogative to make all such choices must now revert to parliament as the sovereign body reflecting the will of the people and the spirit behind the 1973 Constitution as the basic law.


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