LHC corners Zardari with verdict to end party politics
LAHORE, May 12: The Lahore High Court ruled on Thursday that President Asif Ali Zardari should relinquish the position of co-chairman of the ruling party and that the Presidency should not be used for political activities.
“The use of Presidency for political activity is inconsistent with its sanctity, dignity, neutrality and independence. Therefore, it is expected that the president of Pakistan would cease the use of the premises of Presidency for political meetings of his party (PPP),” a four-judge bench of the LHC said in its order on a petition challenging the holding of political office by President Zardari.
Senior lawyer A.K. Dogar had filed the petition in 2009 on behalf of the Pakistan Lawyers Forum (PLF) seeking a court order for the federation to act in accordance with the law and to ask President Zardari to surrender his office of co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party.
The LHC bench comprising Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar Hussain, Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan issued the order on the basis of a judgment by the Supreme Court in a case of Mian Nawaz Sharif versus President of Pakistan and others (PLD 1993 S.C 473) which ruled that duties and functions of the lofty office of the president was to be discharged by him with complete neutrality, impartiality and aloofness from any partisan political interest.
The LHC said in a 33-page judgment: “It is expected that the President of Pakistan would abide by the foregoing declaration of law to disassociate himself from the political office at the earliest possible.”
It may be mentioned that Justice Iftikhar Hussain is retiring on Saturday.
The LHC had on March 10 reserved its verdict after concluding ex-parte proceedings on the case.
A legal panel of the federation boycotted the proceedings on June 21 last year when the bench turned down its request to hear an objection plea before proceeding with the main petition which had already been admitted for regular hearing and partly heard.
The panel comprised Talib H. Rizvi, Saiful Malook, S.M. Masood and then deputy attorney general Abid Saqi. No one represented President Zardari. Several notices were issued to the federation’s lawyers, but none of them appeared.
The judgment said: “Such withdrawal of the learned counsel for the respondents from the proceedings was as surprising as it is strange.”
It said the prescribed law officer of the federation, attorney general or law officers also desisted from their bounden obligation to assist the court, notwithstanding notices served on them.
The verdict said: “When no one appeared on behalf of the respondents despite giving ample opportunity on three dates of hearing, the bench decided to proceed against ex-parte on Oct 7, 2010. However, the bench appointed three senior advocates of the Supreme Court — Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, S.M. Zafar and Abid Hassan Manto — as amici curiae to assist the court on legal points raised by the petitioner.
“Deciding the matter, the bench restrained it from issuing any prohibitory direction to the President of Pakistan keeping in view the immunity enjoyed by the office of the president under article 248 of the Constitution. The advocates who assisted the court on the matter did not address this point, but the court was aware that the high office of president enjoys immunity from certain legal proceedings.
“The material of newspaper cuttings and other records placed before the court proved that meetings of the party in government of which the president is a co-chairperson are regularly held in the presidency.”
Referring to a SC judgment in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan versus Abdul Wali Khan case (PLD 1976 S.C 57), the LHC observed that it was longstanding principle that newspaper reports about events that were not rebutted were treated as reliable evidence.
The verdict said: “The participation of the President of Pakistan in the said political party decisions is extraneous to the duties and functions of his high constitutional office and, therefore, such participation and decisions cannot be treated as being done in the performance of his duties and functions as president and, therefore, immune under article 248 of the Constitution.
“The fact that the president of Pakistan in his capacity as co-chairperson of a political party is taking political decisions in the presidency has two aspects. Firstly, such action is inconsistent with his obligations and attributes as envisaged by the Constitution. Secondly, such action involved property of the state, namely, the premises of the Presidency as a seat of partisan political activity aimed at strengthening and consolidating the political authority of a particular political party.
“Leaving aside any constitutional limitation imposed on the person of the president as the protagonist of such activity, the conduct of such activity within the presidency breaches the sanctity, dignity, neutrality and lofty status of a highly revered state property. It is banal that the said public property can be used only for the purposes of state and not for any partisan purpose.
“This is clearly not a case for disqualification of the president or for a prohibitory order as president is engaging in any activity that is not barred under law. But this is a case where the president is exposing himself and his lofty office to likely controversy that can erode the public trust and respect necessary for such office to represent the unity of the republic. And these actions are being taken not in the discharge of the functions and duties of the president of Pakistan but on account of his personal and private association of the president with his political party.
“These actions, therefore, do not enjoy immunity from the judicial process and call for judicial intervention to enforce the Constitution.
“The nature of intervention in the present case is, however, guided by a number of considerations, but there is no report of any political controversy or reaction whether within the parliament or in the public, against any action taken by the president in the discharge of his dual-office as co-chairperson of his political party.
“The objection now being adjudicated by the court has been raised for the first time for judicial consideration in the present factual matrix.”
The bench did not completely rely on the SC judgment in the Nawaz Sharif case and observed that the manifestation of the principle laid down in the case occurred in a completely different environment of hostility, upheaval and judicial rejection on the merits of the action.
The verdict said: “No such environment exists in the present case. Therefore, this also is not a case for immediate prohibitory action. In the circumstances of the present case and on the basis of the law declared by the SC in the Mian Nawaz Sharif case, it is declared that the duties and functions of the lofty office of the president of Pakistan are to be discharged by him with complete neutrality, impartiality and aloofness from any partisan political interest.”