Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Aug 2, 2017

The polity’s deepening difficulties The election of a new prime minister should be a solemn and dignified occasion. However, in the charged atmosphere of our polity currently, all the norms and conventions of a parliamentary democracy were thrown to the winds when the house met to conduct Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s election as replacement prime minister for disqualified Nawaz Sharif. To the rowdiness of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) MNAs was added the equally vociferous response of the ruling PML-N’s members, despite the remonstrations by the Speaker. Of course the PTI bears the most blame for introducing a lowering of standards of speech and behaviour into our political culture. But sinking to those same depths in retaliation is not the answer. Prime Minister Abbasi did manage to get elected by an overwhelming majority of 221 votes in a house of 342 despite all this, but the customary graces on such an occasion were if anything conspicuous by their absence. The new prime minister, instead of being listened to respectfully in his maiden speech in the new office, was heckled throughout by the PTI members. PTI’s leaders Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen did not even turn up to support their (surprising) choice of Sheikh Rasheed as their candidate. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the senior most PTI leader present in the house showed extraordinary churlishness in refusing to shake Khaqan Abbasi’s hand proffered to the opposition benches. Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen’s absence not only missed a golden opportunity in the present political context to send a message regarding parliament’s sovereignty, they insulted the house and their own candidate by their no show. Now that the Supreme Court has arguably introduced a new jurisprudence of relying on the infamous Articles 62 and 63 for deciding the fate of elected politicians, Nawaz Sharif may not be its only victim. Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen now run the risk of being hoist by their own petard, given that they both face cases in the Supreme Court and before the Election Commission of Pakistan on charges of non-disclosure of assets, offshore companies and foreign illegal funding of the PTI. If Articles 62 and 63 come into play again in any of these cases, the precedent set by the Supreme Court in Nawaz Sharif’s case will have come home to stay. The two controversial Articles are the gift to the polity by military dictator Ziaul Haq, and should have been repealed by parliament when the 18th Amendment was being framed. Khwaja Saad Rafique, former Railways Minister, has admitted more than once that the PML-N erred in not acceding to the PPP’s demand to repeal these two Articles. The Supreme Court itself has pronounced in the past that Articles 62 and 63 are too broad, vague, open to interpretation and set virtually impossible standards of honesty. Their wording lends itself to too wide a sweep that could virtually eliminate most elected politicians. The Supreme Court’s reliance therefore on Articles 62 and 63 has opened up a Pandora’s box. If the accusations of former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai of harassment by Imran Khan hold any water, one can see the beginnings of the mischief unleashed by the Supreme Court’s verdict. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to paint their opponents in the blackest moral terms in the hope of getting them disqualified in the manner of Nawaz Sharif. If the political class does not step back from the brink of elevating Articles 62 and 63 to central status in deciding the fate of our elected representatives, the politicians could end up knocking the available leadership in parliament out of the park, opening up a threatened vacuum of political leadership that will only help the forces of the establishment and their satraps.

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