Cover Story

90 Days --- The Sanctity of Time

This article aims to identify one specific, significant aspect of the process that has led to current conditions: the disrespect for time-limits prescribed in the Constitution.

By Javed Jabbar | June 2023

As we head into end-May/early June 2023, an unprecedented national crisis of institutional conflicts pervades the public realm. There is also a razor-sharp, personal animus evident. The state’s apparatus is in overdrive. Resignations from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as a consequence of the reprehensible 9th May violence are spawning exits, coerced or voluntary. Arrests, re-arrests, invasion of homes, disgraceful maltreatment of individuals, including women, harassment of leaders and workers, disappearance of a prominent journalist, Imran Riaz Khan, and intimidation of others, official campaigns to honour martyrs and, by explicitly as also by implication, accuse PTI of anti-state, anti-army actions to stoke disaffection with it.

In this brief reflection, the aim is to identify one specific, significant aspect of the process that has led to current conditions: the disrespect for time-limits prescribed in the Constitution.

Peasant and cart-puller:
For the woman-peasant toiling on a farm in Punjab at high noon in hot May or a male worker hand-pulling heavy crates on a cart in a Kharadar, Karachi alleyway, the Constitution and its time-frames are obscure, unknown texts. Yet Article 4 bestows them both with the same Constitutional privileges as say, the Heads of State and Government or the Chief of Army Staff for whom the Constitution is far more familiar. That Article 4 enshrines the right of all individuals to be dealt with in accordance with law. In this context, the supreme Law of the State is the Constitution. Article 5 obliges all citizens to obey the Constitution, a duty of particular relevance to all holders of public office.

A pervasive crisis:
Regardless of income, education, profession, class or location, the current miasma in which Time has been placed in a limbo envelopes the whole nation. Through harsh political exchanges, through oppressive inflation, through grim economic conditions, through startling inequalities, through sweeping arrests and detentions.
The sound and fury --- some of it well-justified, the rest too magnified --- about the excesses of 9th May do not, and cannot divert from the gravity of violating the Constitution’s time-bound strictures.

Time and the Constitution:
Throughout its content, in all its Parts and Chapters, the Constitution specifies time-periods, e.g. for periods of incumbency of State and Government positions, the ages for eligibility and retirement of public office-holders, the minimal durations of meetings of Federal and Provincial legislatures in a given year, and the length of their terms et al.

Not holding polls within 90 days of the dissolution of the two Provincial Assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) by PDM tendering excuses about non-availability of funds and security forces is the most obvious but not the only aberration. The unlawful continuation in office of two, clearly partisan Caretaker Provincial Governments is another serious anomaly. Yet another excuse put forward by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is that holding Provincial polls covering about 60/70 per cent of the country’s voters a few months before the normal general elections set for October 2023 would unfairly, unhealthily influence the latter event. If such a view is to be given weightage, such an eventuality not being foreseen when the original Constitution was adopted in 1973, can only be addressed if the PDM were to move for a Constitutional amendment to prevent such a situation --- but then, in an incomplete, now no longer representative National Assembly, a Constitutional amendment requiring a two-third majority is impossible.

PTI’s own disregard:
Ironically, the deviation from time-paths begins with the impetuous decision of the PTI to resign en masse from the National Assembly in reaction to the success of the No-confidence motion against its Government in April 2022. Apart from the impetuosity, the unwisdom of that decision was also immediately apparent by continuation of presence in the Senate. Which, while enabling a minimal voice in Parliament made no difference at all to the passage of Money Bills and the Budget that remain the prerogative of the directly-elected Assembly.

Read More

One thought on “90 Days — The Sanctity of Time

  • June 6, 2023 at 6:38 pm

    Combining logic and passion, this is an outstanding piece. Congratulations.