Hours after seeing its request for a full bench in petitions related to the Punjab chief minister’s election turned down by the Supreme Court, leaders of the coalition government on Monday expressed its “lack of confidence” in the court’s existing three-member bench and announced it would boycott its proceedings in the case.
“Our lawyers recommended a [full court] bench but unfortunately, the bench, instead of reflecting and accepting our advice, rejected it,” said Pakistan Democratic Movement and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in a late-night press conference in Islamabad.
“Therefore, the allies of all parties want to give a clear stance that if [our request for a ] full court bench is rejected then we, too, reject this decision of the court. We will not appear before this bench for this case and will boycott it.
“We also want to say that there is a long history in this political system of such decisions by the judges that have created instability and destroyed the continuation of government policies, which has also created the economic crisis.
“This government wants no institution to interfere in the work that impacts the administrative functioning. Otherwise, we will advise the prime minister and the parliament to legislate so that the public’s trust in courts [could be restored].”
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reaffirmed the boycott call, saying that the demand for a full court was for the sake of the Constitution, democracy and the court’s own integrity.
“This case is about the parliament and when you are giving decisions about an institution, we think your entire institution should sit and decide,” he said seemingly addressing the chief justice.
“Had a full court listened to us then the entire country would’ve accepted your decision.”
PML-N Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said it was a “test” for the apex court since it was a requirement of justice that a judge or bench recuse themselves from a case in which fingers were raised on them.
حکمران اتحاد اور پی ڈی ایم کے قائدین کا فل کورٹ کے مطالبے سے پیچھے نہ ہٹنے پر اتفاق
وزیراعظم ہاﺅس میں حکمران اتحاد اور پی ڈی ایم کے قائدین کا اہم مشاورتی اجلاس جاری
وزیراعظم شہبازشریف، پی ڈی ایم کے سربراہ مولانا فضل الرحمن، پی پی پی کے چئیرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری شریک pic.twitter.com/q6LgOQTL8p
— PML(N) (@pmln_org) July 25, 2022
“This is done in every court in the world where there is rule of law and the constitution,” he said.
Abbasi said the three judges of the existing bench had the responsibility to decide whether or not the history would accept their conduct.
The press conference followed a huddle of the government leaders at the Prime Minister House after the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazl Rehman, PPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari are among the senior political leaders and government figures in attendance.
Leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Awami National Party, Balochistan Awami Party, Balochistan National Party and other government-allied parties are also present at the huddle, along with PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz and other senior PML-N figures.
The coalition meeting resolved to not back down from its demand for a full court and also decided upon its future strategy in light of the apex court’s decision.
The government leaders agreed to move forward with a joint plan of action.
Full bench would’ve exposed ‘contradiction in SC’s own verdicts’: Maryam
فل کورٹ نا بنانے کی ایک ہی وجہ ہے۔۔۔خوف ! اپنے ہی کیے ہوئے فیصلوں کا تضاد سامنے آنے کا خوف!
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) July 25, 2022
Meanwhile, Maryam made a series of critical tweets soon after the apex court’s verdict, saying the reason the request for a full bench was rejected was the fear of contradictions in the court’s own decision.
جب فیصلے آئین،قانون اور انصاف کے مطابق نا ہوں تو فُل کورٹ سے خطرہ رہتا ہے۔کیونکہ ایماندار ججز کے شامل ہونے سے فیصلے کی خامیاں منظرِ عام پر آ جاتی ہیں اور لوگ جان جاتے ہیں کہ فیصلہ آئین و قانون نہیں، ذاتی پسند و ناپسند کی بنیاد پر کیا گیا ہے۔
مگر اب کچھ بھی کر لیں،لوگ تو جان گئے!
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) July 25, 2022
“When the decisions are not in accordance with the Constitution, law and justice, there is a danger from the full court. Because with the involvement of honest judges, the flaws of a decision come to the fore and people know that the decision is not based on the Constitution and the law, but personal preferences.”
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the court’s ruling had laid the foundation of a “new political crisis” in the country. He questioned if the judiciary would accept responsibility for the economic effects arising from the crisis.
پاکستان آج تک 2017 کے وزیر اعظم نواز شریف کو عدالتی فیصلہ کے ذریعہ نااہل کرنے کے سیاسی اور معاشی اثرات بھگت رہا ہے اور آج فل کورٹ نہ بنانے کے عدالتی فیصلہ نے ملک میں ایک نئے سیاسی بحران کی بنیاد رکھ دی ہے جس کے معاشی اثرات کی ذمہ داری بھی کیا عدلیہ قبول کرے گی؟
— Ahsan Iqbal (@betterpakistan) July 25, 2022
Coalition reiterates demand for full bench
Earlier in the day, the coalition government had reiterated its demand for the formation of a full bench to hear the case regarding the Punjab CM’s election.
On Friday, Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari decided not to count the PML-Q’s votes in the Punjab chief minister’s election, deeming them to be against party head Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s directions and thus handing PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz the victory over PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi.
During the press talk, which came hours before the apex court resumed hearing Elahi’s petition against Mazari’s ruling, members of the coalition government came down hard on the judiciary and questioned its impartiality.
They also questioned the court’s decision to restrict the entry of all political leaders present during the press conference. According to an Islamabad police official, only the leaders of respondent parties were allowed to enter the court premises with the permission of the SC administration.
At the outset of the press conference, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz said that she had been advised not to hold the media talk as it would affect her appeal in the Panama Papers case that was being heard by the Islamabad High Court and was in its “final stages”.
“However, I said that the people’s representative has to think beyond themselves and think about the people.”
Commenting on recent court decisions, Maryam said that their impact stays for decades and intensifies over time.
“I can write an essay praising the judiciary but one wrong decision will dismiss the entire [argument],” she said. On the other hand, a decision based on justice can withstand criticism, she said.
She alleged that petitions were being filed with the court and were not being fixed or were facing delays.
Our justice system is such that when a petition is filed, the people already know what bench will be constituted and the decision that will be given, she said.
Maryam gave several examples of the PML-N’s legal woes, claiming that the party’s leaders were being discriminated against.
She also gave the example of Hamza, saying: “Have you ever heard of a trustee chief minister?”
She said that since Hamza was elected chief minister of Punjab, he was not being allowed to work. “He goes from parliament to court, and back and forth. What justice is this?”
The PML-N vice president pointed out that there were many respected judges appointed to the apex court and questioned why they were not involved in hearing cases.
“One or two judges, who have always been anti-PML-N and anti-government, they are repeatedly included in the bench,” she said, adding that “bench-fixing is a crime just like match-fixing”.
It should be noted that the case on the legality of the Punjab deputy speaker’s ruling is being heard by a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar— three of the five judges who deemed that the then National Assembly deputy speaker Qasim Suri’s decision to dismiss the vote of no-confidence against PTI chief Imran Khan in April was contrary to the Constitution, paving the way for his ouster as prime minister.
Justices Bandial, Ahsan and Akhtar were also instrumental in the split decision that disallowed the votes of defecting lawmakers from being counted in the Punjab chief minister election, the verdict that set the stage for the re-election that took place last week.
During the press conference, Maryam also alleged that court decisions were favouring the PTI even though they were mocking the judicial system.
She questioned the state of judicial system and where the country was headed if decisions were given in favour of those who “abuse and bully institutions”.
3 people can’t be allowed to decide country’s fate: Bilawal
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari asserted that the country’s democratic parties had only one demand: the formation of a full court bench.
“It cannot happen that only three people decide this country’s fate. That only they decide whether this country is run through a democratic system, an elected system or a selected system.”
Bilawal said that all the parties in the coalition government wanted a democratic system.
He went on to say that “some powers” were unable to digest that Pakistan was moving towards democracy and the people were making their own decisions.
He said that the PTI chief had trampled on the province’s rights during his time in government which had proven to be disastrous for the country and the economy.
Bilawal said that as a result of the government’s democratic struggles, the country’s institutions were compelled to change their “controversial, unconstitutional and undemocratic role”.
“And it has been three months and some powers, people, political parties and conspirators are unable to tolerate […] a campaign is being run in the country to keep Imran Khan at the forefront.”
He alleged that this campaign was a conspiracy against the country’s economic progress and democratic journey.
“We did not let any conspiracy succeed in the past and we will not let it happen now. We want institutions to remain uncontroversial.”
The foreign minister said that everyone will accept the verdict when all the judges listen to the case.
“If only three judges give a decision, then we will not be able to control the political situation that will develop in this country.”
He said that the Constitution could not be altered due to the pressure asserted by the PTI chief.
“We all want full court bench. Whatever you decide then will be according to the law and Constitution and we will trust it.”
Maulana endorses Maryam’s view
During the media talk, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman endorsed Maryam’s view saying that fingers were being pointed at the judiciary.
He said that the government wanted to strengthen the judiciary so that their decisions spoke for themselves. “They shouldn’t have any conflict or give the impression of being biased.”
He said that a government given the mandate by the people was not being allowed to function. He went on to say that when a government was not formed as per the will of the country’s institutions, a new setup was imposed through rigging.
“Institutions meddle in political affairs to protect the state but do they ever think that the state is weakened due to their interference?” he asked.
“You are sitting behind a wall. You may decide whatever you want […] and make politicians the culprit in the eyes of the public and defame them. But hold yourself accountable.”
The Maulana said that the government did not expect any justice from the current bench and reiterated the government’s demand for a full bench.
He went on to say that the government supported what Maryam said earlier, saying that this was their “united stance”.
“Don’t take this nation to a point where people rebel against institutions,” he said.
He said that the people’s confidence in the country’s institutions needed to be restored but the latter should also assess their role and hold themselves accountable.
“We want to make country’s future brighter but for that, stability for the government is important […] We are united on the fact that we have to set the economy right but let us do it.”
The JUI-F said that it was very easy to “create difficulties”.
“If you expect us to not create any difficulties for you, then it is also your obligation to not create difficulties for us […] if there’s support for parliament, institutions and the government, the country will stabilise.”
‘No one will be satisfied with 3-member bench’s decision’
Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) leader Khalid Magsi also endorsed the views expressed by the others and warned that the country was heading towards “civil war”.
“Institutions should wake up and ego issues should be resolved. If everyone does their own job, things will improve,” he stated, adding that otherwise, no improvement would be seen even in the next 70 years.
Highlighting that parties in the ruling coalition had a significant number of supporters, he reiterated the demand for a full court. “If a three-member bench decides the matter, no one will be satisfied […] we will go back to square one.”
There is nothing wrong if all the judges sit together to serve this nation, he added. Magsi also suggested that a grand jirga be set up to define the country’s future direction.
PML-Q leader Tariq Bashir Cheema also reiterated the demand for a full court bench, adding that a decision should be taken “for once and all times to come”.
The PML-Q leader expressed the hope that the court would accept the demand for a the formation of a full court bench so that justice could be ensured.
Awami National Party’s (ANP) Aimal Wali Khan, in an apparent criticism of the SC’s Saturday order on Mazari’s ruling, said: “If decisions have to be made in such a manner, there’s no need for a party president. The parliamentary leader can have all the power”.
He stressed that the party president had the authority to make all “major decisions”.
“It is a simple fact that the parliamentary leader is answerable to the party president. The former has to follow the latter’s orders.”
The ANP leader stressed that all institutions should work within their ambit as defined in the Constitution, adding that “people and democracy will suffer in case of a conflict between the government, parliament and SC”.