Apr 252008

With April 30 drawing closer, the sitting government is under pressure to uphold its commitment to reinstating the deposed judges within the 30-day period of government formation. Out of the two major coalition partners, the PPP as feared, is dragging its feet on the issue. In a recent interview with BBC, Zardari was dismissive about the judges’ contribution to any noble cause, insinuating that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had resisted mainly to protect his job and not for the cause of democracy. All last week, newspapers have been reporting continued negotiations between the PPP and the PML-N over the judges’ issue, whereby the PPP seems to be complicating the matter by raising one issue or the other.

The question to ask is, why is the PPP so reluctant to reinstate the judges? From the very beginning the PPP leadership has been running against the public sentiment on this issue. In fact, Benazir was very blunt in some of the interviews, in which, when pushed by some journalists for not taking a clear position on reinstating the judges, she made aggressive responses that she will work for the independence of the judiciary and not for reinstatement of judges. According to her, the judges interested in political activism should start their own political parties. It is quite likely that if Benazir were alive, the PPP might have completely abandoned the issues of reinstatement of the judges.

Under Zardari, the PPP moved to a more conducive position vis-à-vis reinstatement of the judges. Here again, however, it is clear that this decision was not the result of free choice but public pressure. In the initial days of taking up the party’s leadership, Zardari followed Benazir’s line and was reluctant to support the reinstatement of the judges and instead pledged to take other measures to ensure independence of the judiciary. It was only due to continued public pressure, which made it clear that refusal to reinstate the judges will lead to another wave of street protests and resistance by the lawyers and civil society activists, that Zardari came around to supporting their reinstatement.

The inherent reluctance within the PPP to this move is however still visible in the continued delays and complications being raised from PPP’s side to reinstating the judges. The process of reinstatement is being delayed on one pretext or the other and is now being linked to development of a constitutional package linked to the judiciary. Reportedly, PPP has also argued for limiting the tenure of the chief justice to four years. Thus, what is clear is that the PPP is reinstating the judges only due to public pressure and not because the party leadership itself supports their reinstatement. This says a lot about the psychology of the current PPP leadership, especially when compared with PML-N where the party leadership has shown an inherent commitment to the reinstatement of judges.

Why is the PPP so reluctant to support a move which has been so critical in the public’s view? Let us quickly recount who these 60 disposed judges are? These are the judges who refused to take oath under the Nov 3 emergency imposed by General Musharraf. These are the judges who stood for the integrity of the Constitution and refused to lend support to extra-constitutional measures of a military general. By all democratic norms, they need to be not only rewarded but highly respected for their commitment to establishing independence of the judiciary. Also, given that they resigned in such big number, the judges left in the system were mainly the government men, and then many others were appointment quickly, irrespective of merit, to fill the vacuum caused by these resignations.

Against this, when the PPP shows reluctance to reinstate the 60 disposed judges, it basically implies two positions. One, that it believes that the judiciary’s resistance to military intervention in civilian institutions has no value. Two, that the current judges who have supported violation of the Constitution by a military government at a time when majority of their colleagues were standing united against this move, are performing better than their colleagues. Both of these assumptions are clearly problematic. It is very clear to the public, and fortunately also to the PML(N) leadership, that the judges who resigned acted on constitutional and moral ground and they must be brought back into the system. Yet, the PPP leadership can’t itself see the importance of having these judges back, it has to be pressurised into it.

This leaves us with the fundamental question of what the PPP actually represents today? Is it really the party that once represented the strongest challenge to the establishment, or should we now shift that honour to PML-N? Does this party actually have any commitment left to the core value of social justice, integral to its initial conception, or is it all about power politics? The party leadership needs to ask itself some of these core questions because if the current pattern continues where on many moral and principled positions it has to be coerced by the public then it will only lose its integrity with time. There is clearly need for serious thinking within the PPP leadership.

The writer is undertaking post-doctoral research at Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail.com

Courtesy: The News, 25/4/2008

 Posted by at 6:56 am

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