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EDITORIAL: The Supreme Court’s order to hold the Punjab chief minister’s re-election on July 22 has finally provided an out of court amicably agreed, binding solution to the immediate problem that everybody must now comply with, but it’s also opened yet another can or worms that will plague the province for some time to come.

Because, as time passed and cases piled in different courts, it became pretty clear that the premier political parties were not fighting tooth and nail to ensure supremacy of law or constitutional clarity, but rather had no qualms about subverting the system, descending to street hooliganism in the provincial assembly, poisoning mainstream discourse and even shredding the constitution just to come out on top and grab power.

That explains why the top court had to finally remind them that their horseplay leaves the people without a functioning government, which is unacceptable. Now all this has also forced the judiciary dangerously close to the blurred, forbidden line that keeps it from being politicised, which is also quite undesirable.

Constitutional experts and political analysts alike are now scratching their heads about untying this knot. You can fault the judiciary all you like, especially when its decisions increasingly come across more as political compromise than the black and white of the law. But when political parties can show no more maturity than street gangs, and make the courts decide on matters that the legislature should, then it’s only natural for the honourable judges and their orders and observations to eventually flirt with controversy. Everybody knows that the circus in Punjab is in reality an ugly political feud between the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) and PML-Q (Pakistan Muslims League-Quaid) combine and PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) and its allies. And it’s not going to die down just because the courts pushed the re-election date to July 22.

Before that, in fact, you can expect yet more controversy about the fact that July 22 re-election will come after the by-polls for 20 crucial seats on July 17, which implies that the CM will now be elected by a reconfigured house and a changed electoral college. Unless too much changes, Hamza perhaps has the numbers he needs, which has been PTI’s and PML-Q’s biggest problem so far, and why they went to the Supreme Court even though the Lahore High Court (LHC) gave them pretty much what they petitioned for. If push comes to shove for these parties, which is very likely, the courts ought to stand ready for another round of unappetizing politics.

For the immediate future, though, everything depends on the by-elections. There’s sure to be a lot of mudslinging so authorities must at least make sure that the entire exercise is carried out meticulously. Seeing this process through, and then accepting the outcome of the July 22 CM’s election without any fuss, is imperative to bring the most important province of the federation back on track. It’s been effectively rudderless, and people have suffered, since April only because politicians elbowing each other aside to represent them care more about their own interests than anybody else’s.

Also, while most people would rather not look back at this dark period in Punjab, it is very important to draw the right lessons from it. Both the role and scope of the legislature and the limits of the judiciary need to be revisited, debated, and explained for everybody to understand. If the pillars of state are supposed to hold it up to serve and protect the people, and they’re not exactly doing it in letter or spirit, then it should at least be possible to establish what is holding them back, so it can be worked out how to make them work.

Hopefully, that process will follow this one. And that it will be undertaken without resort to the judiciary.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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