A constitutional crisis in the offing

Daily: Pakistan Observer
Date: 08.10.08

A few days ago, Nawaz Sharif issued an ultimatum of fifteen days to the PPP government
for repealing the Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment so that the Constitution be
restored as near as possible to the original version as in 1973. Nawaz might have intended
to urge the PPP to issue a time frame regarding the same: the PPP is ought to make its
intention public as to when the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment will be tabled in the
Parliament.

The PPP cannot take the fifteen days ultimatum seriously as the draft of the proposed
Amendment is ready, as it is the same which was presented by the Federal Minister for
Law, Farooq Naik, to the PML-N before the impeachment episode of the ex-President
General Pervaiz Musharraf. In fact, Naik prepared the constitutional package which
included, inter alia, the measures to don the constitutional mantle on the Nov-3 acts of
Musharraf. This point appeared as a bone of contention between the then coalition
partners, the PPP and the PML-N.  

By indemnifying the Nov-3 acts of Musharraf and by validating the decisions taken by the
incumbent Supreme Court, the PPP wants to gain the ‘needful’ collateral advantage – the
reverse of the collateral damage – as the NRO will also be legalized in this way.
Interestingly, the PML-N is, at least openly, not against the NRO but against the Nov-3 acts
of Musharraf including forcefully barring the then Supreme Court from working. In this
sense, it seems that the PML-N has been trying to keep the issue bifurcated to foster
amicable relationship with the PPP but, as obvious, the PPP is mired in the issue because
of one reason – call it weakness – or another.

One of the reasons for constraints of the PPP to disagree with the PML-N may be the minus-
two formula. Musharraf left the President office on August 18, 2008, thereby materializing
the first minus. The second minus – confirmation of ejection of the deposed Chief Justice
Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry – is yet to happen in effect. In this regard, there are two
palpable methods are underway: firstly, to demoralize Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry by re-
employing several of the deposed judges that may lead him to either compromise or resign;
and secondly, to pass the next Amendment to circumvent any possibility of reinstatement of
Justice Iftikhar and the like-minded judges. None the less, the speculation about the minus-
two formula will gain further currency if, in the future, the PML-Q joins hands with the PPP in
the centre to pass the next Amendment.

In the past, in the coalition context, the reaction of the PML-N towards the nature of the
proposed amendments was mild and sober. In the future, however, if the same draft having
the same touchy points is presented, the reaction of the PML-N is expected to be severe
and harsh. Moreover, the presentation of the old draft by the PPP and the intensity of the
expected reaction of the PML-N to that will flare up the constitutional crisis – the crisis which
holds potential to affect political, economic and social spheres of the country. Moreover, it
is still not imaginable the shape into which the speculated reaction will be translated.

Nevertheless, in the mid of the smouldering politico-constitutional situation, what keeps both
the political parties together is the Charter of Democracy (CoD). On the judges’ restoration
issue, the PML-N left the government benches and preferred to sit on the opposition
benches. That may be called an in-Parliament reaction of the PML-N. The PML-N is silent
on any reaction to which it can resort out of the Parliament. It seems that the preference of
the PML-N is to protect its government in Punjab. That is, the PML-N seems disinclined to
perform any act that could jeopardize its monopoly on Punjab. On the one hand, the PML-N
can claim that it sacrificed for independence of the judiciary by abandoning the ministries
and what not while, on the other hand, the PML-N is cautious of the political stakes in its
political stronghold, Punjab.
 
As the events are unfolding, the PPP is striving for passing the forthcoming Amendment by
forging an alliance with the rival parties including the PML-Q. The other day, Chaudhry
Shujaat Hussain, belonging to the PML-Q, has opined that the party was ready to work with
any party for any national cause. Though the statement was ambiguous in its intended
cause and effect, the statement gave a clear indication of change of mind – perceptibly
because of the result of some behind the scene efforts from some quarters.

Of course, if the Nov-3 acts of Musharraf are to be indemnified, the PML-Q is duty bound to
play its role even if temporarily. Nevertheless, the PML-Q can be rewarded by the PPP by
bestowing on the former a possibility of running the government in Punjab. In that context, it
seems that on the very next day of passing the forthcoming Amendment, the PML-N will be
deprived of Punjab. In that situation, the PML-N will have neither Punjab to feel secure and
promote its political future nor the judges’ issue to cash in on the sentiments of the people.
So, if Nawaz has given the fifteen days ultimatum to the PPP, he may be anticipating the
situation lying ahead. The ultimatum spelled out by Nawaz may be considered a tip of the
iceberg of the constitutional crisis stalking the country.

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