Making Constitutional Reform Personal

Mar 23rd, 2010 | By | Category: The Nation, The News

Constitution of PakistanThe latest reports on proposed constitutional changes have brought many examples of a common problem in reporting, particularly about political issues –  making reforms personal.  This is done when reporters or editors suggest in their reports that particular constitutional reforms are aimed at a person rather than an office. In the current discussion, it is not uncommon to read that a particular reform is aimed at ‘clipping Zardari’s powers’, even though the reforms have nothing to do with Zardari, except that he happens to be President at this time. Furthermore, many of the constitutional reforms currently being discussed are actually part of a package of reforms that Zardari campaigned on, so how can they be targeting him personally?

Sunday’s article in The News by Rauf Klasra is an excellent example of this type of poor reporting. Klasra writes,

President Asif Ali Zardari’s sweeping powers to impose emergency in the country will be clipped in the upcoming constitutional amendment package…

Likewise, President Asif Ali Zardari’s powers are proposed to be transferred to the judicial commission and parliamentary committee of both the houses of parliament.

The powers described here do not belong to Zardari. They belong to the President. This is an important point to consider. If another person becomes President after the next elections, Zardari would not keep any Presidential powers. The powers belong to the office, not the person.

Consider the way that Rauf Klasra describes other proposed constitutional changes:

…the upcoming constitutional amendment package, which also envisages absolute powers to the Parliamentary Commission to reject, with two-thirds vote majority, any proposed judge of the Supreme Court/high court referred to it by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Notice that Klasra does not write, “referred to it by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry.” This is because Iftikhar Chaudhry happens to be serving as Chief Justice, but he will not always be such. Actually, the office is not the man. So changes to the powers of the office are neither an affront nor a reward to the man.

The Nation also fails to properly report the reforms, also suggesting that the reforms are targeting an individual. In an unsigned report, The Nation writes that,

President Asif Zardari will lose prerogatives under the proposals, which are designed to guarantee the sovereignty of parliament and devolve power to provincial governments in a country plagued by regional insurgencies against the overbearing federal government.

This turgid sentence obviously more rightly belongs on the editorial page than in a news report, but notice that the sentence begins by stating that “President Asif Zardari will lose prerogatives.” Actually, Zardari will not lose any prerogatives, the office of President will return powers that had been previously seized by previous undemocratic governments.

This brings us to the next important point. The tone of many articles, not limited to the two quoted above, suggests that parliament is somehow punishing Zardari with the package of constitutional changes. Actually, Zardari had previously campaigned on returning powers that Generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf had claimed for themselves.

Even the anti-Zardari newspaper The Nation admits in its editorial that “When [the constitutional reform package] is tabled before and passed by parliament, it will have restored the balance of powers between the president and prime minister…”

The Nation‘s editorial goes on to complain that Zardari is including reforms beyond undoing the changes, but they still admit that “This is not to deny that here is a need for some basic constitutional amendments beyond the dictatorial tamperings…”

When reporting on constitutional reforms, journalists need to take a non-political perspective. The changes have long been discussed and are no surprise. Likewise, they are changes to specific offices not specific individuals. To say that “Zardari is having his wings clipped” is incorrect and misleading to the public.

Please save the opinions for the editorial page and only report the facts.

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  1. Adalat ho gi ma kay jaisi

    Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is unique. His judges are his soldiers. The judiciary functions under his chain of command. Every judge is at his beck and call. His is the last word. He constitutes benches comprising of judges of his own choice. He decides cases against persons who were never a party to any case. He condemns them unheard and that too without notice. He has removed over 104 judges of superior judiciary without hearing them. He is of the view that the position of a judge is so honorific that he should not appear before his brother judges and therefore no hearing should be provided to him. He has repeatedly dubbed these 104 judges as PCO judges whereas none of these judges ever took an oath under the PCO while Chief Justice took PCO oath twice and also validated the PCO of General Musharaf in 2000. He issued contempt notices to his fellow judges and caused them to appear in court despite their elated positions. He can alter, violate or rewrite his own constitution. He can refuse to follow seniority principle in appointing a Supreme Court judge despite having held that all appointments in executive branch should be based on seniority. He condemns adhocism but has forced the appointment of an adhoc judge in the Supreme Court. He has condemned over 8000 persons including judges of superior courts, two high ranking law officers, a former attorney general and Chairman of NAB without providing all these persons with an opportunity of hearing in two recent judgments . In the judgment of 31st of July Chief Justice has relied on order dated 3rd of November 2007 of seven member bench. It is now established that no order was passed on 3rd of November 2007 by this so-called bench which in fact had never assembled. The Chief Justice has fabricated the said order. It is because of this reason that PCO judges who took oath on 3rd November 2007 are not being assigned any court work in violation of article 209 of the constitution by Chief Justice of Pakistan and Chief Justice of Lahore High Court for the last more than 8 months on the pretext of pending contempt proceedings. This act alone is causing a recurring loss of over 10 million per month to the national exchequer because these judges and their staff are getting full salary and perks but are not being made to work. The contempt proceedings are not being taken up since these are based on fictitious order of 3rd of November 2007 and further proceedings in this contempt case can bring to light the fraud committed by Chief Justice Iftikhar. Hats off to lawyers movement- May I ask Aitzaz, that, was he referring to his step mom when he said ” adalat ho gi ma kay jaisi “.

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