EXCLUSIVE: Parliament Will Stand With PM Shehbaz If SC Initiates Contempt Of Court Proceedings

EXCLUSIVE: Parliament Will Stand With PM Shehbaz If SC Initiates Contempt Of Court Proceedings
LAHORE: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government is prepared for contempt of court proceedings, against the prime minister or any sitting federal minister, including finance minister Ishaq Dar, interior minister Rana Sanaullah and law minister Azam Nazir Tarar, The Friday Times (TFT) has learnt.

Political insiders claim that if CJP Bandial decides to disqualify prime minister Shehbaz Sharif or any of his ministers, it won't be as easy for him as it was when former premiers Yousuf Raza Gillani and Nawaz Sharif were disqualified. This comes in the wake of reports that the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) may take such drastic action against the PDM government for not releasing funds for the Punjab elections that the CJP has ordered be held on May 14.

“When Yousuf Raza Gillani was disqualified, the judiciary had the support of other political parties as well as the military establishment,” sources close to top PDM echelons said.

They also recalled that, at the time of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification under article 63A, the judiciary again had the support of other political parties, as well as the blessings of the-then military establishment.

Sources maintained that this time, it won’t be easy because alleged audio leaks, some judges allegedly being biased towards the PTI, and verdicts to give unwarranted relief to Imran Khan, all had exposed a clear slant in the apex judiciary.

PDM parties ready to 'fight it out'

PDM parties, especially Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) have decided to "fight it out" this time, as they enjoy the support of all democratic political forces, the parliament, and state institutions, including the military establishment which is also indirectly on their side as of late.

“We are ready to sacrifice our PM and ministers, but won’t bow down in front of this judiciary which has become a mouthpiece of the PTI and always acted like a ‘B’ team of Imran Khan," the sources said.

‘Judiciary enjoys support of PTI only when it gives verdicts favouring Khan’

Speaking to TFT, political insiders said that after recent audio leaks and a few controversial decisions by the SC, attributed to Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and his likeminded judges, have now exposed the entire context behind the use of suo motu powers to impose a date for elections on the parliament and the democratic government.

“The judiciary at this moment is divided from within and has become controversial. The CJP and his like-minded judges only enjoy the support of PTI and Imran Khan,” they said.

The alleged audio tape of CJP’s mother-in-law speaking to wife of advocate Khawaja Tariq Rahim has further exposed the judiciary, giving credence to rumours that the judges on Pakistan's apex court are divided on the basis of political preferences.

‘CJP under pressure from colleague judges’

Sources privy to this development said that CJP Bandial is not confrontational and conciliatory in nature, but he is under pressure from some of judges on the bench, including a couple of judges from Punjab and one judge who was elevated from Sindh, who was also discussed in the alleged audio tape of CJP’s mother-in-law.

“These judges are threatening CJP to force him to initiate contempt of court proceedings against PM Shehbaz, they have some audio tapes of CJP Bandial as well as former CJP Saqib Nisar, which were shared with them by a former spymaster,” a well placed source confirmed to TFT.

'Win-win situation' for PMLN even if PM Shehbaz disqualified

Sources from the inner sanctum of PMLN senior vice president Maryam Nawaz told TFT that it will be a win-win situation for PMLN even if premier Shehbaz Sharif and some of their key party leaders are disqualified, as it would help revive the party's fortunes especially in Punjab where party is perceived to have lost all its political capital after forming the PDM government a year ago.

“It would help us in gaining some sympathy back from the general public and from the voters,” a senior PMLN MNA said while speaking on condition of anonymity.

NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf writes scathing letter to CJP

In his written missive to CJP Bandial, speaker of the National Assembly (NA) Raja Pervez Ashraf stated that in his official capacity as speaker and custodian of the House, he conveyed his "profound concern and unease of the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan regarding some recent decisions of the Supreme Court and comments made by some honourable Judges".

The speaker wrote that the "National Assembly strongly feels that these recent decisions amount to encroachment upon two core constitutional functions of" the parliament.

Speaker Ashraf drew the SC's attention to Article 73 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which vests exclusive financial and pecuniary powers in the National Assembly. "Articles 79 to 85 confer power and authority to approve expenditure from the Federal Consolidated Fund on the elected members of the National Assembly," the speaker added.

Speaker Ashraf wrote to express "the profound concern and deep unease of the National Assembly" with the controversial orders passed by a 3-member Bench of the Supreme Court directing the government of Pakistan to release Rs. 21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“These orders have been passed notwithstanding that such release has expressly been forbidden by the National Assembly,” Ashraf wrote.

SC ignored National Assembly resolutions

Speaker Ashraf pointed out "with great regret" that the 3-member SC bench ignored the resolution of the lower house of parliament which states that “the decision, in SMC No. 1/2023 and CPs No. 1 and 2 of 2023 passed by a majority of 4-3, had dismissed the SMC and CPs,” he wrote.

"CP No. 05/2023 was not maintainable and as such, the decision dated 04-04-2023 has no force of law or has any binding effect," speaker Ashraf further wrote.

The speaker further stated that on April 10, the National Assembly did not pass the 'Charged Sums for General Elections (Provincial Assemblies of the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Bill, 2023' through which a charge was sought to be created on the Federal Consolidated Fund for Rs. 21 billion, under Article 81(e) of the Constitution.

Speaker Ashraf maintained that on April 17, the NA standing committee on finance and revenue directed the finance division to seek prior approval of the National Assembly in order to avoid constitutional violation for this unauthorized expenditure. "The National Assembly would have rejected ex-post facto approval for Rs. 21 billion demand for supplementary grant as other expenditure, keeping in view the foregoing position of the National Assembly," the speaker explained in writing.

‘Three member SC bench's decision disregarded constitutional process’

Speaker Ashraf added that the 3-member bench's orders have "completely disregarded the constitutional process and the prerogative of the National Assembly with respect to financial matters".

He wrote that the 3-member SC bench "appears to be in a hurry and has given unusual directions to the Federal Government to authorize the expenditure of Rs. 21 billion from the Federal Consolidated Fund and then present it as fait accompli to the National Assembly".

SC 'threatened' federal government to release Punjab election funds

For the speaker, the ex-post facto rejection of this amount by the National Assembly - which was most certain to happen, in his opinion - would have made this 'authorization' on court orders unconstitutional, and "will surely lead to untoward consequences for the federal government".

The speaker also wrote that the "National Assembly notes with great concern that despite knowing the consequences and effects of such prior authorization, which will be rejected by the National Assembly when presented for ex-post facto approval, the 3-member Bench of the Supreme Court has threatened the Federal Government of 'serious consequences' for not authorizing the expenditure of Rs. 21 billion".

Bandial SC undermining National Assembly

On behalf of the National Assembly, the speaker noted "with great dismay" that the CJP's actions are "an attempt to undermine the National Assembly and amounts to breakdown of the constitutional order".

“The National Assembly is quite clear that such direction is an impermissible intrusion into the exclusive jurisdiction and authority of the National Assembly, and a breach of its privilege,” speaker Ashraf wrote.

Courts can interpret but not rewrite Constitution

Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf stated that Pakistan's constitutional courts had the power to interpret the Constitution. "However, such power does not include rewriting the Constitution or undermining the sovereignty of the Parliament", he noted.

"It is not the prerogative of the 3-member Bench of the Supreme Court to give directions for release of funds while ignoring the constitutional provisions, which the Hon'ble Judges have taken oath to preserve, protect and defend," the NA speaker further noted.

"The National Assembly firmly believes that the power of the purse belongs solely to the National Assembly, composed of the directly elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. The National Assembly shall defend this right and prerogative granted to it by the people and the Constitution. Any attempt to circumvent and sidestep the constitutional mechanism and due process shall be repelled by the National Assembly,” the speaker's letter reads.

The NA speaker ends his letter to the SC by inviting the judges' collective attention to the fact that SMC No. 1 of 2023, CP No. 1 and CP No. 2 of 2023 were dismissed by a majority of 4-3, therefore, the so-called 3-2 decision had "no legal force". As such, the SC's "orders dated 04-04-2023, 14-04-2023 and 19-04-2023 passed in CP No. 05/2023" also were not legally binding, the speaker informed the court.

These SC orders "neither enunciate a principle of law nor are to be implemented in terms of Articles 189 and 190 of the Constitution," the speaker affirmed.

NA speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf also informed the SC in writing that a rejection of the sum of Rs. 21 billion - ordered by the court in a controversial order - by the National Assembly "does not constitute loss of confidence of the National Assembly in the Federal Government or the Prime Minister".

In his letter to CJP Bandial, the speaker mentioned that the rejection of Rs. 21 billion was based on the understanding of the National Assembly that the orders of the 3-member Bench dated 04-04-2023, 14-04-2023 and 19-04-2023 were in violation of the 4-3 majority decision in SMC No. 1 of 2023 and CPs No. 1 and 2 of 2023.

“We have always believed in the principle of separation of powers, and the Parliament has always respected the independence of the Judiciary,” speaker Ashraf stated, before adding that "it is important to remember that each branch has its own domain and should not encroach upon the powers of the other".

“I am also to convey to you the sense of the House that an unnecessary confrontation, deeply damaging to the national interest, is being created by the repeated orders to release funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan, disregarding the expressed will of the National Assembly," the speaker stated in unequivocal terms.

The speaker wrote that the National Assembly will approve the expenditure for the general elections to all legislatures in the annual budget statement for the next financial year, which will be presented by the federal government in due course.

Dictators and judiciary 'encroached' into Parliament's authority

Speaker Ashraf noted that it had been 50 years since the adoption of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, and during this time, "we have witnessed numerous encroachments upon the powers of the Parliament by the dictators".

“The higher judiciary has, and sadly so, mostly ratified the undemocratic interventions,” Ashraf recalled.

"The people of Pakistan have always fought back, struggled for the restoration of democracy, with their blood and sweat and have always prevailed. They also strived for the establishment of an independent Judiciary. Unfortunately, the Judiciary mostly trained its gun towards the same politicians who defended it during difficult times," the NA speaker lamented.

Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf reminded the SC of Article 2A of the Constitution, which stipulates that "the State shall exercise its power and authority through the chosen representatives of the people".

"Neither the executive nor the judiciary can encroach upon the powers of the National Assembly," speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf reaffirmed.

Ashraf believes that directing the executive to authorize expenditure from the Federal Consolidated Fund and seek ex-post facto approval from the NA, even after the NA has repeatedly rejected this demand, militates against the principle of trichotomy of powers embedded in the Pakistani Constitution.

NA Speaker Ashraf advises judiciary to remain above political thicket

The speaker wrote that "the Supreme Court must, as far as possible, avoid getting involved in political thicket. It is best to leave resolution of political matters by the Parliament and the political parties”.

On behalf of the National Assembly of Pakistan, speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf urged the CJP Bandial and all his brother SC judges "individually and collectively, to exercise restraint and respect the legislative domain of the Parliament".

"We must work together to uphold the Constitution, protect the democratic values and work within our respective constitutional domains to ensure that confrontation between the organs of the State is avoided and the constitutional order is maintained,” the speaker's letter concluded.

No more SC 'adventures' to be tolerated

Well-informed sources told TFT that the NA speaker's letter clearly suggested that this time, the parliament, democratic political forces and powerful quarters - the miltablishment - were with the PM and any adventure or misadventure from the SC, or its current chief justice and his faction of like-minded judges, will not be tolerated. "Whether it is disqualification of the PM or other ministers, it will not be accepted," sources said.

PM disqualification may lead to chaos, imposition of emergency

In case PM Shehbaz Sharif is dismissed by the Supreme Court, sources are certain that it will lead to further political chaos which, in the long run, may result in imposition of emergency rule.

“It is about time that political forces decide the date of elections on their own, otherwise things would get much worse,” sources said.

“In such a scenario, martial law cannot be ruled out either,” a senior PMLN politician feared.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.