Case: PPP's Strategy
by TARIQ BUTT
By all permutations it is now clear that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf precisely wants to follow the path that his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, treaded and went home, convicted and disqualified. He has left no doubt anywhere that he will not write letters to Switzerland to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, come what may. By now, the panel of five Supreme Court judges, seized with the case of implementation of the December 2009 judgment against the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) too know it very well that the new premier is determined not to obey their order like Gilani.
On Aug 8, the five-member bench led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa finally issued to Pervez Ashraf the show cause notice for contempt after urging him through Attorney General Irfan Qadir for a few weeks to bow before the apex court direction contained in paragraphs 177 and 178 of the NRO verdict. The Prime Minister has been directed to personally appear before the panel on Aug 27. The issuance of the notice has kicked off the initiation of the contempt proceedings against the new premier just a few weeks after the ouster of his predecessor. This is indeed a huge development on the political and judicial front.
"We had on the last date of hearing, and we have today, remained unable to subscribe to the submission of the attorney general on account of the fact that the judgments" (relating to NRO) "passed by a larger bench of this Court and by the full court respectively have already attained finality and also because the present bench is only seized of implementation proceedings vis-à-vis those judgments. It goes without saying that an implementation bench cannot go behind a concluded and final judgment or revisit the same. We may observe at this stage, and we observe so with respect to the esteemed elective office of the Prime Minister/Chief Executive, that the ostensible calculated defiance on his part through adoption of dilatory tactics and putting up excuses for resisting implementation of this court's directions may know no bounds, but, at the same time, restraint exercised by this court is also not without any limit. Pushed into such an unfortunate situation we hereby issue notice to Prime Minister under section 17 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (V of 2003) read with Article 204 to show cause as to why he may not be proceeded against for committing contempt of this Court by not complying with the relevant directions of the Court," is how the Aug 8 order read.
It noted that upon his persistent and willful disobedience in complying with the court directions in paragraphs 177 and 178 Gilani was tried, convicted and sentenced for committing contempt of court and consequently stood disqualified as a member of the National Assembly and also removed from the office of the prime minister. Thereafter Pervez Ashraf was elected to the exalted office and on June 27, the apex court expressed hope and confidence that the new premier, who had stepped into the shoes of his predecessor in office, would implement the court directions. The attorney general was required to obtain instructions from Ashraf in the matter and to inform the bench of his response on July 12. But Irfan Qadir did not come up with any definite response. On that day, the bench reproduced its earlier order of March 8, wherein Gilani was directed to implement the court directions "regardless of any advice tendered earlier or in future", and while reiterating the direction, Ashraf was also directed by the bench accordingly requiring him to act in the matter forthwith and to submit a report on July 25 failing which the court might initiate any appropriate action under the Constitution and the law.
The ruling said that it was quite unfortunate that Ashraf failed even to comply with that order and neither the directions contained in paragraphs 177 and 178 were obeyed till July 25 nor any report called for in the earlier order of the court was submitted by the specified date. Instead, on July 25 the attorney general sought time to work out a solution to the outstanding issues but no meaningful progress was reported by him in that regard. Before the bench issued the present order, Irfan Qadir maintained before it that it was not properly assisted on facts and law before rendering the NRO judgment and also at the time of handing down its ruling in the review petition filed in that case and, therefore, these verdicts were un-implementable and proper recourse for seeking revisiting of those judgments by the apex court is being mulled by the federal government.
Gilani did not submit before the directions of the highest court of Pakistan as his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari, did not want him to surrender this way and earn ire of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The President cherished to gain political dividends of Gilani's "martyrdom" though he could not because the episode did not produce anything positive for him and his PPP. It is his same desire that is pushing Ashraf to constantly defy the court orders so that he is also knocked out of office by the Supreme Court just a few weeks after the previous departure and his party evokes public sympathy and the judicial body earns public ire.
This way the government wants the court to be maligned and labeled as biased and partisan. The PPP is poised to hammer the adverse court decisions as a major point in the campaign for the next general elections, which are not far off. Since it has nothing much to show to the people, it is banking on such political gimmicks. But whatever it may do, the public rating of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is the daring driving force behind the present independent judiciary, has gone further up. According to a recent Gallup survey, the top judge's popularity graph has gone up after the eruption of controversy surrounding his son and property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain and people are more satisfied with his performance. The nationally representative poll shows that a vast majority of Pakistanis are happy over the performance of the chief justice after this incident. On the overall performance, a vast majority of 84% was happy with his current performance, with 43% saying his performance is very good and 41% saying he is performing good; 6% held the view that his performance is satisfactory while only 4% said he is not 6% did not answer the question.
Despite divided opinion on this controversy, the survey said, a vast majority of population holds the view that if chief justice's son is involved in it, he should be punished accordingly. People were also asked about their opinion on the performance of chief justice before this incident and it was found out to be almost the same; 81% were happy with it with 41% said his performance is very good and 40% saying he is performing good; 8% held the view that his performance is satisfactory. Negative response remained the same with 4% saying the chief justice is not performing well and 7% did not answer the question: Was it a conspiracy to malign SC's name?