Today, a new prime minister will be elected in Pakistan. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) fielded Makhdoom Shahabuddin as its frontrunner for the new premier’s post but a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued yesterday by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in the ephedrine quota case. Issuing non-bailable arrest warrants the day Shahabuddin filed his nomination papers for the PM’s post cannot just be a coincidence. To be on the safe side, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Qamar Zaman Kaira of the PPP have also filed their papers.
To say that there is never a dull moment in Pakistan would not be wrong. This week was yet another example of tragic comedy. It would have been funny had it not been tragic the way the courts and other unelected forces are gunning for the democratic system. Just four days ago, we had Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani as our prime minister but on June 19, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that he was disqualified with effect from April 26 (when he was convicted for contempt of court).
The Election Commission of Pakistan notified Mr Gilani and the rest is history. And what was Mr Gilani’s fault? Refusing to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the money laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. The constitution of Pakistan gives immunity to the president while he is in office but for reasons best known to them, the courts are not interested in adhering to this logic. Setting a bad precedent, a sitting prime minister was not only convicted of contempt of court but was later disqualified.
Those who are celebrating Mr Gilani’s ouster should not forget that in the long run, such precedents can and will have dangerous repercussions for the entire democratic process. Calling the Supreme Court’s decision a ‘soft coup’ or ‘judicial coup’ is not far off the mark. What will happen when the new PM is asked to write a letter to the Swiss authorities and s/he refuses?
Will we have another disqualified PM on our hands? Making a mockery of the democratic system is actually what we will end up doing. In such a scenario, there is a fear creeping in within the democratic circles: that of a caretaker setup of technocrats. If such a caretaker setup is put in place and elections are delayed by a few years, it will be a big blow for all those who fought for democracy in Pakistan.
In his Daily Times column titled ‘Enemies of reason’, Dr Mohammad Taqi writes: “While by design it may wish to apportion itself the imagined and tangible glory, by default such a judiciary ends up transferring all its gains to its supporters directly and/or indirectly.”
This is what lies at the heart of the matter. A direct military coup is not yet on the cards but weakening the democratic system leads one to believe that there is a method in the madness. A coup by any other name is a coup and nothing but. It is hoped that the opposition parties realise this before democracy is sent packing. It will not only harm the PPP but also all other democratic forces. The media and civil society should stand behind the political forces; otherwise history will not forgive them.
Let’s not mock democracy because that is what the undemocratic forces want. A strong democratic system will ensure that Pakistan eventually becomes a secular, pluralistic and developed country. We owe it to our country, we owe it to our people and we owe it to all those who spent their entire lives fighting for civilian supremacy.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org