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March 8, 2018

Pre-poll warning and more


March 8, 2018

A forceful farewell speech given by outgoing Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP on Tuesday summed up the political crisis the country faces today. Babar’s speech was a lament for the erosion of the principle of parliamentary superiority and he did not shy away from blaming even his own party for its contribution to the morass. According to him, the political situation is such that state institutions are heading face-first into a clash. Voicing a concern that has become widespread in the country, Babar said that he believed that parliament is increasingly becoming judicialised while the judiciary is becoming politicised. It is important that a person as respected as Babar is saying this, especially since he belongs to an opposition party that has benefited from rulings against the sitting government. It shows that the current crisis has become so acute it needs to transcend political partisan passions. Babar’s first fealty is to the constitution and he is worried that is being interpreted in ways that are damaging to our democracy. The situation, he believes, is heading towards a point where this summer’s general elections will be about the judiciary rather than the agendas of the political parties.

Babar was unsparing in decrying the role played by parliament itself. The senator had resigned from the parliamentary committee on accountability laws last year and in his speech he explained that the committee had shied away from holding everyone accountable, including his own party in the criticism. In a not unexpected move, on Wednesday the PPP – which really means Zardari – removed Farhatullah Babar from his position as party spokesperson. There have been concerns voiced by many that the revelations contained in the Panama Papers had only led to cases against one individual at the expense of structural changes to the law that could have led to widespread action. During his parting speech, Babar was equally passionate in arguing for the devolution of powers to the provinces and the sense of alienation felt by the smaller provinces. His comments on how the logic of events might lead to the undermining of the 18th Amendment came in the form of a stern warning against the consequences of such a development. The overall picture he painted was of a polity that has veered off-track. There can be debate about how much blame should be apportioned to each institution but a period of self-reflection is now required, and perhaps other institutions should follow Babar’s lead by looking critically at the role they have played in bringing us to this point. The constitution clearly lays out the role of every institution but for most of our history these clauses have been observed only in the breach. Senator Babar’s speech should serve as a wake-up call that we are in danger of walking down that same path again.

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