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Constitution under Attack

When the Constitution is violated and state institutions refuse to hold elections within the given timeframe as per the constitutional provision, the failure of state and its institutions is always on the cards.

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | June 2023

Never before, in the 75-year history of Pakistan, have there been any attacks on the Supreme Court and the Constitution at the same time. The Supreme Court was physically attacked in November, 1997 when the then government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, because of its confrontation with the then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, decided to teach him a lesson. To make it happen, the PML-N supporters and party workers attacked the Supreme Court premises, which led to the resignation of Chief Justice. In 2023, the coalition government, which is led by PML (N) along with its allies, has resorted to worst type of verbal attacks against the Chief Justice (CJ) of Supreme Court (SC) and his fellow judges, because of SC’s verdict that elections in Punjab must be held by May 14, 2023.

In January this year, the PTI-led assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) were dissolved under the misplaced assumption that the dissolution of both assemblies would lead to the holding of general elections. On the contrary, the Constitution was violated by the coalition government members in the National Assembly and the Senate by refusing to comply with the clearly stipulated articles in the 1973 Constitution that elections must be held within 90 days after the dissolution of assembly.

A lot has been written and said about the ongoing judicial and constitutional crisis in Pakistan engulfing this country since the PTI government was ousted from power as a result of the vote of no-confidence on April 9, 2022. However, one thing is clear that in the past no government had made a mockery of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and his fellow judges and violated the Constitution in such a blatant manner as did by the incumbent PDM government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Why elections were not held in KPK and Punjab within 90 days, and how the orders of Supreme Court were violated by the PDM government? Why a vulgar, inexplicably malicious campaign against the Chief Justice was launched by the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam - F (JUI-F), the three major partners of the PDM-led coalition government? Who is behind the coalition government which augments their confidence to sustain their hostile campaign against the Chief Justice and to defy the orders of Supreme Court? Why the authority of Chief Justice is challenged, and who has divided lawyers’ community? These are the questions being raised about judicial and constitutional crisis in the country.

The phenomenon of not holding general elections within 90 days is not new. On July 5, 1977, when the martial law was imposed overthrowing the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then Chief Martial Law Administrator General Zia-ul-Haq, despite his commitment to hold elections within 90 days, i.e. by October 1977, decided to postpone the elections indefinitely. After the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4, 1979, General Zia-ul-Haq committed to hold elections in November 1979, but they were again postponed for an indefinite period of time. The rule of General Zia-ul–Haq, which was to end within 90 days after the imposition of martial law, continued for over 3,000 days till the time party-less elections were held in February 1985.

This time also, it was predicted that Supreme Court’s order that elections in KPK and Punjab be held within 90 days of the dissolution of their assemblies will not be implemented by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the PDM government, because of the fear that PTI would get a huge majority and their opponents, particularly PML (N) and PPP, would be routed, owing to the bad performance of the PDM-led coalition government, coupled with the surge in the popularity of Imran Khan after his ouster from power.

The defiance of Supreme Court along with the Constitution will have grave implications both in short and long term. First, making mockery of Chief Justice and his fellow judges has created a bad precedent in the political history of Pakistan. According to the 1973 Constitution, any criticism against the judiciary and the armed forces is prohibited, however, nothing happened when the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, Interior Minister and other cabinet members ridiculed the Chief Justice and his fellow judges and asked for their ouster.

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2 thoughts on “Constitution Under Attack

  • June 2, 2023 at 9:25 pm

    Prof. Ahmar has written this article with deep care.

  • June 4, 2023 at 8:32 am

    Apt and clear analysis and summary. It is such blatant aspersive disregard for, and denigration of, legally and popularly established laws and forms of civility that can light the tinder.