NationalVolume 12 Issue # 18

Beyond the court verdict on the Panama issue

The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP) anxiously awaited decision on the petitions praying for disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has, at least, for a moment given a brief reprieve to the premiere. He may survive in the final analysis, but the situation that would unfold as the result of the decision will be quite eventful for the country. The final outcome of the Panamagate issue would not be possible before the end of July. It may take a bit longer to conclude. Because the findings of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which would investigate PM Sharif and his sons, may further confuse the situation instead of making things clear. Here one should not mince words in stating that after the SCP decision to constitute a JIT to investigate the money trail, the Panamagate issue has entered a blind alley.

However, whatever would be the legal upshot of Panamagate, the political outcome would have far reaching consequences. The most important political consequence of the decision of the SCP would be that it would weaken the state institutions. PM Sharif is Leader of the House in the Na-tional Assembly and, therefore, the questions raised about his person, in which two out of five judges of the SCP have recommended his disqualification, then has, by inference, impugned the integrity of the entire parliament. In a strong democracy, the allegations against a prime minister or chief executive of the country are taken up by parliament itself and are seldom referred to the superior court of the country. The members of parliament, who represents the collective wisdom of the nation, are supposed to be conscientious enough, plus have the intelligence and acumen to deal with matters like Panamagate. In such democracies, parliamentarians are not the handpicked men and women of the prime minister or the chief executive. Rather, every member has his own integrity and honour and takes decisions in the best interest of the nation and society. The prime minister or chief executive is the selectee of members of the parliament and is one among them. Unus inter pares.

This is due to the fact that in strong democracies the political parties are not family limited companies. However, in Pakistan’s political culture it is the other way round. Most of the political parties are dominated by a single, or a few families. Therefore, only those people are given parliamentary tickets who take oath of allegiance to the dominant family members. Consequently, when applicants become members of parliament, they do not utter a word against the prime minister or chief executive, who most often than not is from the ruling family. This is very much evident from the reaction of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) parliamentarians on the decision of the Panamagate issue. This decision has clearly deprived PM Sharif of the moral authority to remain in office, but not a single member of his parliamentry party, has asked PM Sharif to step down, at least till the completion of the investigation of the JIT. Against this backdrop, the parliament, which is unfortunately a very weak institution in Pakistan, would be further attenuated. The Panamagate issue will not only remain limited to the weakening of parliament, but the people’s confidence and trust in parliament and the parliamentary system would further erode. This would not augur well for democracy in the country. The masses in our country may generally be politically passive but this does not mean that they do not understand political situations, particularly the level of honesty and integrity, or otherwise, of the leaders. Today most of the people in Pakistan, irrespective of their political affiliations, are convinced that the chief executive of their country is not an honest man. This belief has been corroborated by two highlyrevered justices of the SCP who declared the PM unfit to rule.

Three other honourable justices have not declared the prime minister an honest man. Between the unequivictory damned, and damned by implication, it is the only the most brazen reprobate who would hang on to office The largescale belief among the masses, obviously, would have negative consequences for democracy in Pakistan. Political systems are based on public trust and the greater the trust greater the level of participation by the public in political activities. The judicial institutions of Pakistan will also not be immune to the decision of the SCP on the Panamagate issue. For the common man what appears as a glaring difference of two groups of judges hearing the same case, has caused consternation. The public expected a unanimous decision. The referring of the case after a verdict by the SCP, to a JIT comprising of state functionaries of certain financial institutions and intelligence agencies, and not to a judicial commission, has also raised many questions. It is interesting to note that the revered judges of the higher judiciary of Pakistan on many occasions themselves have pointed towards the fact that the people’s confidence and trust in the judicial system had been eroding. In a nutshell, the SCP decision on the Panamagate cases in which the petitioners asked for the disqualification of the prime minister for his involvement in acquiring huge properties abroad through ill-gotten and illegally transferred money from Pakistan, has opened a Pandora’s Box which would be very difficult to close. An important outcome of the Panamagate issue and court case is that the issue of corruption has become an important issue for the public. It is quite likely that the next national elections in the country may be contested on the question of financial corruption.

While the 2008 general elections were contested, by and large, on the issue of terrorism and the 2013 mainly on the issue of the energy crisis in the country; in the next general elections, if they are held this year or the next, the central issue would be corruption by public office holders. The indication given by the chairman of the main opposition party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf is that his party would bring the masses on the streets to force for an early decision. Not only the PTI, but other political parties are threatening to take to the streets, ostensibly because they do not expect the JIT to deliver an honest report, all of which promises to become a holy mess. The real trajedy of Pakistan is that this hapless nation is bedeviled by myriad forms of corruption, monetary being only one of them. It is only the greed for power which informs the reaction of the opposition. So, Nawaz many go, but what will be left behind will a ragtag agglomeration that would not recognize national interests, honesty or integrity if it stared them in the face.