With the two key pillars of the state, i.e. the Supreme Court and the Parliament dug their heels in deep and standing eyeball to eyeball with each other claiming supremacy, the country has entered a new phase of politico-judicial crisis as if the ongoing crippling economic crisis was not sufficient. Both sides seem determined not to budge even an inch from their position, come what may.
Unfortunately, the top judiciary which acts as a sole arbiter in such a crisis situation has unexpectedly jumped into the fray thereby compromising its unassailable authority. It has provided an opportunity to the executive which, taking shelter behind the parliament for the first time in the country’s turbulent political history, so openly challenges its authority which has always remained sacrosanct. For a country which is afflicted by a string of problems like economic, security and political issues, the crisis at hand is not an ordinary one. It’s a mother of all crises facing the country; and in the absence of a final arbiter, the ruckus is deepening the crisis leading the nation no where.
The battle between the parliament and judiciary started soon after the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill,2023 was tabled in the National Assembly aimed at clipping the overwhelming powers of the CJP to take suo motu notice and constitute benches thereby prompting a counter-offensive launched by the Supreme Court issuing a pre-emptive stay order even before the bill became an act, thus preventing it from becoming operative after becoming an act, which has finally become an act after the bill was passed by the houses of parliament.
The struggle for jurisdiction between the parliament and judiciary is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan’s parliamentary and judicial history. In the past too, we have witnessed both the institutions encroaching upon each other’s domain. In 2010, parliament’s attempt to make tweaks in the procedure for the appointment of judges of the superior courts and ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry-led Supreme Court’s fierce resistance in this regard is a case in point.
This showdown between the judiciary and executive-led parliament was primarily caused by Imran Khan’s announcement to dissolve the provincial assemblies of Punjab and KPK to pressure the government to hold early elections but the government refused to succumb to IK’s pressure. The matter was taken to SC which issued a directive to hold the elections on 14 May 2023, unheard of in Pakistan’s judicial history, instead of leaving the matter to political forces to address the issue, thus allowing a political battle to be fought in judicial chambers.
After jumping into political arena, the Supreme Court now finds itself caught between the devil and the deep sea. Finding no other way out, it left the matter with the political forces to come to a consensus decision with regard to holding elections, but that too came to an abortive end. Now, for both the government and the Supreme Court, it’s a race against time as the deadline set by the SC for holding elections in Punjab is approaching near. The ECP has expressed its inability to hold the polls on 14 May and has filed a review petition in the SC. This is a golden opportunity for the SC to avail it and take itself out of the deep political mire gracefully.
With Shahbaz Sharif-led Coalition government adamant not to hold elections before October this year for political, security and economic reasons, the political horizon has become murkier. PM has sent a strong message to the judiciary and the opposition by taking a vote of confidence voluntarily and without being asked by the president to do so. It obviously indicates the government’s intention to cross swords with the country’s top judiciary.
The tough stance of the government viewed from legal and constitutional perspective seems an open defiance of the relevant provisions of the constitution. Moreover, according to the honourable bench of the SC headed by the CJP, the government exhibited non-seriousness and adopted time-buying tactics while holding dialogues with the opposition and was seen least interested in a breakthrough which ultimately led to a political fiasco. On the other hand, eyebrows are being raised over judiciary’s involvement in political affairs which led to a tit-for-tat response from the government which came in the form of a confidence vote as mentioned earlier.
In such a dismal atmosphere when both the government and judiciary are seen with their sleeves rolled up and ready to fight, an honourable exit from the belligerent environment seems well-neigh impossible. Nonetheless, it’s hoped that sanity would prevail, the ever rising temperature would be brought down to a bearable limit and both sides would give up hard stance taken and reach an understanding in the greater national interest regardless of who wins and who loses. In this regard, all eyes are fixed on CJP to show restraint and magnanimity which could help bring a thaw and resolve the issue saving the nation from a traumatic condition it has been through for the last couple of months.
Lastly, the parliament and the judiciary need to shed belligerency and hawkish posture and must work together in the greater national interest to resolve the contentious issues without intimidating each other and without infringing upon each other’s established domain and avoid causing further erosion to the credibility, moral authority and sanctity of both pillars of the state.