A new social contract - By: Zahid Hussain (with thanks to Khaled Nizami)

In an unprecedented move, the Senate has decided to initiate an intra-institutional dialogue to prevent the collision of state institutions. For that purpose, the Senate chairman intends to invite the army chief and the Supreme Court chief justice for discussion with members of the upper house of parliament.

One cannot doubt the earnestness of the efforts of Raza Rabbani, the Senate chairman, and his desire to take the nation out of the current political turmoil and to stabilise the democratic process in the country. But the proposal of such a dialogue to resolve the crisis of democracy appears ridiculously simplistic.

What does the Senate chairman expect to achieve by calling the army chief and the chief justice to parliament?

Does he really think that such an intra-institutional dialogue can remove the basic sources of tension among them? What he fails to understand is that the existing imbalance of power among the state institutions is symptomatic rather than the cause of distortion in the power structure.

Such naiveté is hardly expected from a seasoned parliamentarian holding such an esteemed position. While the entire discourse is focused on the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court under a controversial article of the Constitution, the real issues undermining the political system and the democratic process have been completely ignored.

One wonders whether the effort is really for the establishment of civilian supremacy. Surely, parliament must debate removing any provision of the Constitution that it deems inappropriate. But not for protecting one person.

It is not the ruling against the former prime minister but the relentless attack on the judiciary that is threatening the democratic process. The allegation that the judges have conspired to derail democracy is an obstruction of justice. In fact, it is the ousted prime minister who has taken the collision path. So what is the chief justice supposed to tell parliament? Must he assure parliament that elected leaders enjoy impunity even if they are found to be violating the law and committing perjury?

It is indeed the job of parliament, and not of the judiciary, to amend the Constitution. Being a member of the legal fraternity himself, the honourable chairman of the Senate must also know that the judiciary is a separate branch of the state and is not answerable to the executive or the legislature. Is there any precedent of the chief justice being called by parliament anywhere in the world?
Senator Rabbani is right that all institutions of the state must work within the constitutional framework. But what he must also realise is that it is a virtually dysfunctional parliament and the absence of an institutional decision-making process has caused the widening of the power imbalance.

It is highly inappropriate to blame the judiciary when political leaders approach the apex court even on issues that should have been settled in parliament. The Panamagate case is one such example. Instead of summoning the chief justice, parliament might want to focus on removing its own shortcomings.

Undoubtedly, civil-military relations have remained a major source of problems hampering the democratic process in the country. There is no denying the fact that civilian supremacy is essential in a democratic dispensation. Indeed, the existing imbalance of power in favour of the military is one of the reasons for political instability in the country.

But this situation cannot be changed without making some fundamental reforms in the political system itself in order to make the executive and legislature more effective. The issue cannot be resolved through a dialogue between the army chief and parliament. Sadly, the only focus is on matters related to the disqualification issue rather than reviewing the present crisis in its entirety.

Unsurprisingly, the ousted prime minister took no time in endorsing the Senate chairman’s initiative, though one is not sure that he really believes the move could deliver any substantive outcome. Sharif is now trying to remould himself as a ‘revolutionary’. He also vows to change the Constitution.

But no one knows what kind of revolution he is really talking about. He laments that five judges have thrown out the people’s mandate. He described his show of political power on GT Road under full official protocol as the rejection of the court’s verdict against him. Sharif’s war on the judiciary is reminiscent of the storming of the Supreme Court by his own party men in 1997.

It was amusing to see the ousted prime minister sad at the fact that no prime minister in the country’s 70-year history had been allowed to complete his or her term. What he is not telling the people is that he himself was instrumental in the removal of some of them over the past three decades.

It is also true that no elected leader has been as responsible for undermining the civilian institutions as Sharif was during his three terms. What he is not accepting is that it is only he who has been removed — his party is still in power and functioning under a new prime minister.

It appears certain that parliament will complete its five- year term. It is the term of parliament that is enshrined in the Constitution and not of the prime minister. It is so apparent that all his talk about democracy and civilian supremacy is about personal political survival

Surely, there is a need for drastically reforming the political system to strengthen democracy. For that, we don’t require any intra-institutional dialogue but a new social contract that would guarantee the rule of law and the strict adherence of all state institutions to the Constitution.

Most importantly, democracy must not become a means to perpetuate dynastic rule. The people’s mandate does not give elected leaders immunity from the law. Democracy can only survive if the trust of the electorate is also respected by political parties and their leaders.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2017


Posted on Aug 17, 17 | 1:43 am