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Above the Constitution?

By Imtiaz Gul

The Express Tribune, Feb 22,2012

It is a story of stark contrasts; German President Christian Wulff resigned on February 17, following disclosures over his personal financial dealings and acceptance of financial favours from political backers. Here in Pakistan, in a brazen display of authority, the prime minister — indicted for contempt of court — waves the victory sign when he drives into the Supreme Court. In Germany, the president stepped down after prosecutors in his native state of Lower Saxony requested that the Bundestag — the lower house — strip Mr Wulff of his immunity from prosecution, saying that they had “factual indications” of long-suspected improprieties. While serving as governor of the state of Lower Saxony, Wulff allegedly accepted a large low interest loan from the wife of a wealthy businessman in 2008, to finance the purchase of a home for his family. Even though Mr Wulff shrugged off allegations of misconduct by insisting he had behaved correctly, yet he chose to leave the ceremonial but prestigious office to fight allegations. Here, in Pakistan, the premier and his cohorts interpret the peoples’ mandate as a crown that supersedes law. In Germany, the attorneys have basically asked for the president’s trial, while in Pakistan an illustrious barrister has somersaulted from his own position to defend a premier — by implication the president — and thus flout the rule of law. For the sake of the business called politics and a seat in the Senate, the barrister has turned himself into a laughing stock by flip-flopping on his own opinion regarding the letter to the Swiss courts. Until he opted to defend Prime Minister Gilani, Aitzaz Ahsan had repeatedly advised the government to act upon the Supreme Court instructions and write to the Swiss authorities. But now, he has turned over and is now arguing against his argument.

Back in 1986, when Uwe Barschel, the chief minister of Schleswig-Holstein, a German state, committed suicide after official records gave his claim of innocence a lie, he could not stand the public scrutiny anymore and took his own life in a Geneva Hotel, leaving behind five children.

Willy Brandt, the great German statesman, practically wrote his political nemesis, when he apparently appointed a young Greek-origin lady as the spokesperson of his Social Democratic Party in the late 1980s. The charge against him was that he made the appointment without consulting the party hierarchy. Here in Pakistan, charges of corruption, or allegations of abuse of authority carry no legal or moral value; political parties are run as personal fiefdoms, with brothers and sisters and scions claiming important spots in parliament and in the party. Here, even the facts such as the spurious graduation degrees of dozens of MPs matter little when it comes to morality or principles. Even revelations that a former minister does not hold a doctorate degree are hardly enough for such individuals to draw moral consequences. Or take the case of a political opportunist like Sheikh Rasheed who finds nothing wrong in rubbing shoulders with leaders of banned outfits. For all of them, the guiding principle revolves around political survival — regardless of its legal or moral cost.

Is the law and its respect confined only to those who empower a certain class of people to legislate for them? And does the parliamentary membership place MPs, and particularly the holders of top offices, above the Constitution? The prime-ministerial reaction to the Supreme Court rulings clearly suggests he considers himself answerable to that parliament and not a court of law, a parliament packed with a lot of people whose legal wisdom and intellect may be suspect if put to scrutiny. Essentially, everybody must be equal before the law. This is what the Supreme Court is trying to achieve and this is what we all must stand for; equality before the law of the land. Neither exemptions nor immunity for anybody, whosoever. No misconduct or violation of law must go unchallenged and unpunished.

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk