Wednesday November 30, 2022

Disqualification debate

By Editorial Board
October 06, 2022

A debate on lifetime disqualification of politicians has started once again after Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial’s remarks that Article 62(1)(f) is “draconian”. The CJ made these observations during the hearing of PTI leader Faisal Vawda’s disqualification case. Article 62(1)(f) of the constitution pertains to the qualification of members of parliament , specifically in light of the terms 'Sadiq' and 'Ameen' – asking for parliamentarians to be "sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law”. Four years ago, a Supreme Court judgement authored by Justice Bandial had decided that disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) would be permanent. Consequently, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Jahangir Tarin were thus disqualified for life in their respective cases. Back then, many legal observers and politicians had spoken out against such permanent disqualification of any politician.

This is thus a welcome debate and perhaps also points to a change in thinking regarding the punishment of awarding a lifetime disqualification to a member of parliament. Thus far, the debate has led to some interesting arguments. One of these has been forwarded by PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry who has said that an amendment in law – by the next parliament – should take away the provision of lifetime disqualification; Mr Chaudhry however has hastened to add that this should not be done to benefit any one individual. There is indeed merit in the argument that parliament is – and should be – the ultimate authority in making and amending the law, so that any extra reading into a law is not necessary.

The question that automatically crops up now – especially given the current political environment – is: what happens to Mian Nawaz Sharif's disqualification from four years back? And is there any chance that it can be undone? While better legal minds debate this issue, a reminder is necessary that Mian Nawaz Sharif was disqualified for life because of a technicality pertaining to an 'iqama' and a salary that he never received. We are also reminded of the celebrations in the PTI camp over this disqualification despite the fact that many legal experts had said that the same reasoning – or any technicality – can be used against anyone else at any time in the future. A permanent disqualification is a double-edged sword and the PTI only realizes it now because its own leader, Imran Khan, is under threat due to the cases he is facing. Whether it is the foreign funding case or the Toshakhaana reference, some legal observers are of the view that if he is found guilty, he too can be disqualified for life under Article 62(1)(f) just like Nawaz Sharif was sent packing. Political observers and legal experts in fact had been warning of the boomerang effect of such cases from way back when the Memogate scandal issue was legally taken to courts by Nawaz Sharif – that such issues would be used against politicians again and Nawaz shouldn’t do this as it could be his turn next. Lo and behold, we saw what happened with Nawaz after the Panama verdict. There is little disagreement that over decades Pakistan's politicians have been cynically pitted against each other by power-brokers in an anti-politics game for power. This cycle needs to end.