Government’s review petitions

President Asif Ali Zardari

Either to buy more time or to establish its legal stance, the government has decided to file two review petitions, one against the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Contempt of Court Act 2012 and another against its July 12 verdict in which the prime minister was asked to implement the NRO judgment and write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The government hopes to file these review petitions before the next hearing of the NRO implementation case tomorrow, August 8, or at the latest during this week. Differing from its earlier position of not filing even an appeal when the former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was convicted on contempt of court charges, the government seems now to have decided to defend its position through every available legal means instead of a political approach by referring the Contempt of Court Act 2012 to parliament for reframing as had been contemplated earlier as one of the available options. This decision flowed out of a review by the president and the legal advisers of the government, a process that also took the PPP’s coalition allies on board.

Reportedly, the coalition partners advised the government to keep the other options, i.e. taking the August 3rd order against the Contempt of Court Act 2012 to parliament or the promulgation of an ordinance to protect the prime minister on hold for the moment to show restraint against a pro-active judiciary enjoying the support of the opposition and some sections of society. Perhaps the government was left with little choice in order to avoid a full-blown confrontation with the judiciary. The way things have unfolded, despite the fact that the NRO case has devoured one prime minister and threatens his successor, the government has been avoiding a confrontational route against the judiciary. This also offers the government the possibility of political gains through the ‘victim card’.

Some gains seem to have fallen its way already as the government has started publicly showing the scars inflicted by the judiciary, starting from the case of its leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to the acquiescence of the judiciary in every military coup. The press conference by PPP Senator Faisal Raza Abidi the other day was an attempt to not only critique the judiciary, especially the Chief Justice over his son’s follies, but to create an impression of a judiciary with a track record of siding with anti-democratic and anti-PPP forces.

The legal pundits see little chance of the review petitions succeeding in changing the SC’s attitude or position on the NRO or the struck down Contempt of Court Act 2012. However, the government may be hoping to extend the legal battle through its review petitions, thereby giving it space and time for the decision to go for fresh elections, if not at the stipulated time of February 2013, then as close to it as possible. It would not be in anyone’s interest for the Supreme Court to send another prime minister packing.

The government has tried defending its new prime minister from the NRO verdict’s wrath by promulgating the Contempt of Court Act 2012 but the haste with which it was brought in left it open to the almost inevitable striking down by the SC. The hope that the government would be able to consolidate and even increase its votes on the back of the executive-judiciary tussle remains a question only the future can settle. But the government may be thinking that in case of a drawn out tussle, judicial activism may lose steam and even popular support amongst a section of the public. The courtroom drama is not yet over, and a troubled country holds its breath in anticipation of the next scene in the play. – Dailytimes