Make or break?
ANOTHER week of reckoning may be upon us as the Supreme Court and the PPP resume their private struggle on the national stage. With the Supreme Court set to take up petitions against the new contempt law today and the issue of the prime minister’s refusal to write the so-called Swiss letter also up before the court on Wednesday, a decisive showdown may be upon us, or yet another round in a long-running cat-and-mouse game may be notched up. At least as far as the new contempt of court law is concerned, the government appears to be fairly clearly on the wrong side of the law. The specific sections that baldly seek to give total immunity to a range of high officials and hold off court action in contempt cases for as long as possible are at the very least ill-advised and at worst, blatant violations of existing law and constitution. Even from a political point of view, the new contempt law typifies the government’s muddled response to its legal woes. After failing to appeal then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s contempt conviction – a move that could have bought the government some time – the government has gone back to its delay tactics, hoping to throw hurdles in the court’s path towards ultimately convicting a second prime minister, or worse.
However, unwelcome and unlawful as the government’s moves may be, the court faces an even bigger choice: oust another prime minister and further fuel the destabilising speculation that the demoratic system may be on the verge of being wrapped up or allow the prime minister to stay and let the upcoming general election run its course? All it took was one by-election in Multan last week to switch the national debate back to electoral politics and the sense of rejuvenation an election can bring. By the same token, however, a court-engineered ouster of a second prime minister in a matter of months will switch the conversation back to extra-constitutional steps being contemplated.
At its heart, the court’s ouster of one prime minister and possible ouster of another is about the Swiss millions allegedly stashed away by President Zardari. Without condoning or countenancing corruption, this newspaper has long held that on this particular issue at this particular stage in the country’s democratic development a verdict by the electorate was preferable to a judicial verdict. Put it this way: are some 60 million dollars worth ultimately derailing the democratic process? The answer in 2009 was no and in 2012, on the eve of an election, the answer is an even more resounding no.