Lawyer power wins for second time in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD - For the second time in nine months, Pakistan’s gutsy lawyers have proved they are a force to reckon with despite the lack of an organised structure to lead their agitation.

The last time around, in June 2008, they didn’t succeed in their demand for the reinstatement of the Supreme Court and high court judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency in November 2007 - but they did push the military dictator to quit office.

This time around, they achieved their objective with the government announcing that sacked chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and the 60-odd dismissed judges would be restored.

But even more than this, what the agitation has done is to rewrite the political equations in the country with Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani emerging stronger at the cost of President Asif Ali Zardari, whose intransigence was responsible for both agitations.

The agitation has also shown that Zardari will no longer be able to treat the government as his personal fiefdom and act virtually at will.

There have been reports that Zardari was planning to move crucial powers from the presidency to the prime minister’s office and then occupy that position.

The powers relate to the appointment of the service chiefs and the chief justices of the Supreme Court and the high courts, and also to dismiss the federal and provincial governments.

Musharraf had transferred these powers to the presidency under the controversial 17th amendment to the constitution and while a repeal of this formed part of the current protest, it got swept under the carpet.

However, the repeal is still very much on the cards, more so with Chaudhury’s reinstatement, and once this happens, Zardari will only be left with his ceremonial powers.

This apart, the second edition of the ‘long march’ has considerably strengthened opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and increased his bargaining power if his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ((PML-N) is to return to the coalition led by Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Little wonder then, that spontaneous celebrations broke out across Islamabad and other Pakistani cities as the government gave in on the lawyers’ demands.

What would be interesting to now watch would be how quickly Chaudhury deals with the government’s appeal against a Supreme Court ruling barring Sharif and his brother from contesting elections.

Once the bar is overturned, Shahbaz Sharif would again stake his claim to the chief ministership of Punjab province, which he lost after the court verdict.

The other thing to be watched would be whether Chaudhury reopens the corruption cases against Zardari that Musharraf had closed through the National Reconciliation Ordinance to enable slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband return home in 2007.

If that happens, it will effectively end Zardari’s political career.


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