Nawaz Shrif's second stint in Office
The general election of February 3, 1977 gave a landslide victory to the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif, which has a few parallels in the country's history with perhaps the solitary exception of Mujibur Rehman's in 1970. It won 135 seats out of total 207 seats in the National Assembly. In the provincial assembly polls, which were held simultaneously with the NA polls, PML (N) emerged as the largest party in the Punjab Assembly by securing an absolute majority of 211 seats in a house of 240 with the PPP and the PML (J-Chathha group) could bag only two seats each. However, the massive vote for the PML has not made any significant qualitative change because the same faces, or families, have re-entered the legislature.
The PPP has been reduced to the status of a regional party, largely confined to the province of Sindh. From 118 the strength of the PPP in the National Assembly has dropped to a bare 19, in the Punjab from 92 to a minimal 2 and in the NWFP from 25 to a meager 4. And in its own home province, an absolute majority of 67 has declined to 36, although it remained the largest single party. The Mohajir Qaumi Movement, which secured 12 seats in the NA, was able to win 28 seats in the Sindh Assembly while PML(N) secured 15 seats.
The 1997 elections, boycotted by the Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Pakistan, had two distinctive features. First, the principle of adult franchise was extended to the Tribal Areas for the first time in their history. Secondly, the national and the provincial elections were held simultaneously. In the past the National Assembly elections used to be held two or three days earlier and their outcome psychologically influenced the provincial vote. The turnout ranged from 41.27 per cent in Punjab to 30.85 per cent in the Sindh, 29.33 per cent in the NWFP and 22.38 per cent in the Baluchistan.
PML[N] formed governments in the NWFP, Punjab and Sindh. In Punjab it has an absolute majority while the Awami National Party backed it in the NWFP and in Sindh it formed a coalition with the MQM.
On Feb. 17, Nawaz Sharif was sworn-in as the Prime Minister for the second time. Two days later he won a vote of confidence in the National Assembly by a margin of 177-16.
Nawaz Sharif's first year in office
Nawaz Sharif completed the first year in office, on February 17, 1998, by concentrating all civilian livers of powers in his hands and no significant political opposition. His confrontation with the judiciary ended in damaging all established institutions of the country. He knocked out the president as a significant political actor and brought the parliament virtually under his thumb through a constitutional amendment that, in the name of fighting 'lotaism' and defection tendency, has reduced MPs virtually to the status of serfs and minions of party leaders; they dare not indulge in criticism of their own party leaders, much less vote against the party whip, which they can do on pain of losing the membership of the house.
He has more than two thirds majority in the Federal National Assembly, no hostile provincial governments to contend with, a friendly superior judiciary, and his own hand-picked nominee elected as president. Above all, the armed forces have demonstrated in no uncertain manner that they are not willing to topple him. No Pakistani Prime Minister has ever been blessed with circumstances so propitious for unhindered exercise of the enormous power of this post.
NEW LAW TO CURB PRESS FREEDOM
Less than one month after taking power, the government of Nawaz Sharif, on March 10, issued "the Registration of Printing Press and Publication Ordinance, 1997" to curb the press and freedom of expression. Article 29 authorizes magistrates and low-ranking police sub-inspectors to interfere in the working of the Press and to initiate executive actions including the forfeiture of newspaper copies without the process of judicial review and restraint.
The ordinance says that the copies of newspapers or books can be forfeited if they publish any material which tend to incite willful obstruction to public servants or servants of local authorities in the discharges of their public duties. Any police officer or any other person empowered to seize and destroy the newspaper or magazine or book can do so after showing warrants issued by any first call or sub-divisional magistrate or any authorized police officer.
The ordinance also bars the newspapers from publishing any account of the proceedings of the National Assembly or the Senate or a provincial assembly if such account contains any matter which is not part of the proceedings of such an assembly and which is prejudicial to the maintenance of public order or is opposed to morality, or amounts to contempt of court, defamation or incitement for the commission of an offence.
The government has also been authorized to forfeit the copies of a newspaper if it contains any material which can incite to the commission of an offence or violence or amounts to false rumors, is critical of the creation of Pakistan, brings into hatred or contempt the government established under the law with the intent of causing defiance of the authority of such government.
The 13th Constitutional Amendment
At midnight on April 2, 1997, all rules and procedures of the parliament were suspended and in the middle of the night, the 13th amendment Bill was rushed through both houses, signed by the president the next day, and notified on April 4. By this amendment, the president was disempowered and the Prime Minister further empowered. The President cannot dissolve the National Assembly, he cannot appoint governors at his discretion but on the advice of the prime minister, the provincial governors cannot dissolve their assemblies, the president, though he remains supreme commander of the Armed Forces, no longer has the power to appoint or sack the services chiefs.
Rules dictate that a constitutional amendment is an extraordinary measure involving a great deal of deliberation on the part of the ruling party, consultation with the opposition, and an objective study of public opinion on the subject. Thereafter, according to the rules of procedure governing parliamentary proceedings under the 1973 constitution, a bill (other than a finance bill) upon its introduction in the House stands referred to the relevant standing committee, unless the requirements of Rules 91 and 92 are dispensed with by the House on a motion by the member-in charge. The standing committee is required to present its report within 30 days and, on receipt of this report, copies of the bill as introduced, together with any modifications recommended by the standing committee, must be supplied to each member within seven days. Two clear days then must elapse before the bill can be sent down for a motion under Rule 93.
Ever since Nawaz Sharif assumed power on Feb. 17, he had been apparently not feeling very comfortable with several developments. President Leghari forced him to give PML ticket for the Senate elections to his cousin, Mansour Leghari, who had contested the National Assembly on a PPP ticket and was defeated. The President appointed Hamid Shahid as the Governor of Punjab against the wishes of his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who happened to be the Chief Minister of the province. Gen. Moinuddin Haider was appointed the Governor of Sindh against the wishes of PML and MQM. The president was also reluctant to replace the Governor of Baluchistan, General Imaraullah Khan. At a parliamentary meeting PML MNAs demanded repeal of the 8th amendment in order to get rid of the presidential interference in day-to-day affairs of the government.
The 8th amendment had made more than 40 changes in the constitution. However, Nawaz Sharif opted to remove only those parts of the 8th amendment which were a potential threat to his government but has failed to touch those parts which pose a threat to society, particularly the weaker and disadvantaged sections like women and minorities. There are several constitutional and legal distortions created by the 8th amendment and several black laws, such as the Hudood Ordinances, under its protection which need to be removed. Thousands of innocent women are languishing in jails under the notorious Hudood laws. Some other article which deserve immediate attention and action by the parliament are:
1. Article 51(1) that was amended to establish separate electorate for minorities.
2. Article 51 (2)b that was amended to increase the age-limit for votes from 18 to 21 years.
3. Article 51(4) that abolished the reserved seats for women in the National Assembly.
The 14th Constitutional Amendment
Less than three months after this transgression, on June 30, in the Senate, the rules of procedure were again suspended, the 14th Amendment Bill went through like a shot, passed in less than a day, without one single protest or dissent being recorded. On July 1, the bill was presented to the National Assembly, again rules of procedure were suspended, and the bill was passed immediately, again without a single protest or dissent. It went up to the president, on July 3 he put his signature to the bill, and on July 4 the 14th Amendment Act of 1997 came into force.
This amendment admittedly has the aim of putting an end to lucrative defections. But 'lotaism' only existed because all our political parties were in the business of buying and selling bodies. However, that was not deemed to be sufficient. The Prime Minister had to be further empowered, and so he was. A member of a parliamentary party will also be deemed to have defected if he breaches any declared or undeclared party discipline, code of conduct or policies, or if he votes contrary to any direction issued by his parliamentary party, or if he abstains from voting as instructed by his party on any bill. The prosecutor, defense counsel, judge and jury who will decide the member's fate is the head of the party, whose decision is not justifiable in any court of law.
Ehtesab (Accountability) Law
The National Assembly, on May 29, 1997, amended the Ehtesab Ordinance to introduce major changes in the accountability process. The most significant amendment was the shifting of the starting date for accountability from the original 31st December 1985 (when General Zia lifted the martial law) to 6th August 1990 (when the first government of Benazir Bhutto was dismissed). The amendment also transferred the power of investigating charges of corruption from the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner to the Ehtesab Cell set up by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. "The Ehtesab Bill steam-rolled through the National Assembly makes a mockery of accountability. The amendments incorporated in the bill before it was presented in parliament for adoption render it an extremely flawed piece of legislation." (1)
Although the amendment excluded the first Benazir government from the purview of accountability but the exemption for the 1985-90 period is significant since it was during this period that Mr. Nawaz Sharif, in his capacity as the Chief Minister of the Punjab, was strengthening and consolidating his industrial and political base. At the time of passage of the Ehtesab Law, there were reports that there were 167 cases of major loan default which include 107 cases involving top leaders of the PML(N) who got the benefit of huge write-offs and rescheduling during 1985-1990.
The transfer of the power of appointment of the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner from the president to the federal government reduced the office of the CEC to a mere post office. The real power was transferred to the accountability cell in the Prime Minister's secretariat. The head of the Cell, Senator Saifur Rehman Khan, was accountable only to the PM. The amendment also extends ex post facto legal sanction to the PM's accountability cell, which was under attack in a number of writ petitions in the Lahore High Court.
The original ordinance had empowered the CEC to initiate a case on a reference received from the appropriate government, on receipt of a complaint or on his own accord. Under the new amended law, if the CEC deems a reference necessary, he must refer it to the accountability cell for investigation. With all the accountability functions and powers concentrated in a cell functioning in his secretariat, the prime minister will be able to keep a strict check not only on the opposition and the bureaucracy but on his own party-men also.
Ehtesab officials get SHO's power
The federal government, on Feb. 4 1998, amended the Ehtesab Act, replacing the name, "Ehtesab Cell", with "Ehtesab Bureau", and provided powers of an SHO to the chief of Ehtesab Bureau or any other official designated by him for the purpose of investigation. The amendments were introduced into the Ehtesab Act through a presidential ordinance, the first by President Rafiq Tarar, under clause 1 of Article 87 of the constitution.
The chief of Ehtesab Bureau or any officer designated by him will enjoy all the powers of an officer-in-charge of a police station. The chairman or designated officer will be empowered to require the assistance of any agency or police officer. The amended law provides indemnity to officials of the Ehtesab Bureau on acts deemed to have been done on "good faith".
By amending Section 3 of the Ehtesab Act, the government has again brought in the original definition of "corruption and corrupt practice". In the original Ehtesab Ordinance, corruption by a government official was defined as "favors or disfavors to any person." Through a subsequent amendment in the original Ehtesab Ordinance of 1996, the words "any other person" were replaced with the words "his spouse or dependents." The government has again restored the original meaning that any favor by a government official to other person other than his/her spouse or dependents would also fall in the definition of corruption, and he would be held responsible for that.
A reference made to the Ehtesab Bureau will now be treated as a report under section 154 of the code. After the reference of any case to the Ehtesab Bureau by the Ehtesab Commissioner, it would be an exclusive responsibility of the bureau to examine all the material, evidence and proof. No other agency will have a power to look into the matter. For the purpose of inquiry into any matter referred to the Ehtesab Bureau, the chairman and the bureau will have the powers of an officer in charge of a police station, including the power to ask any citizen to appear before it. Every government agency, police official or any other government official would be bound to assist the Ehestab Bureau in investigation.
After the amendment, the Ehtesab Bureau is also empowered to ask the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner to make a request to any court for the withdrawal of any case pending in a court. If the court grants the application, the case will be transferred to the Ehtesab Bureau.
The Chief Ehtesab Commissioner will have the powers at any stage of proceedings against an accused under the Ehtesab Act, to order the arrest of the accused. A reference to the court by the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner shall contain the substance of the act of corruption and corrupt practice alleged to have been committed by the accused. The amendment has provided a right of appeal to the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner if the Ehtesab bench acquitted any accused. Earlier this right was only with the accused. After the amendment, the Ehtesab Act provides that on the grant of pardon from the CEC, a magistrate appointed by the CEC himself will examine an accused.
What the Bureau now becomes is an independent investigating agency with teeth of its own and therefore not dependent, as it formerly was, upon the powers of the FIA. This may be a sequel to the turf war between Senator Saifur Rehman's Ehtesab machine and Ch. Shujaat Hussain's interior ministry, both of whom were vying for control over the FIA. The first and most striking change of course was to strip the original law of its neutrality and place the powers of investigation and prosecution firmly in the Prime Minister's Secretariat.
In Pakistan, the word 'accountability' has only one meaning: to malign and persecute political opponents. Glimpses of the full story can be culled from the report of the Mehran Bank commission along with the evidence provided by General Asad Durrani and Hameed Asghar Qidwai, as well as the jailed chief executive of the failed bank, Yunus Habib. (2)
Several references have been filed against the former Prime Minister and her husband but they are still far from having run their full course. The rest of the Ehtesab Bureau's record is even more patchy. The 87 senior bureaucrats suspended hastily amidst a blaze of publicity have still to see any firm action taken against them. Indeed, some of the more notorious faces in this crowd have either been let off completely or have been allowed to go abroad. Meanwhile, the list of bank defaulters is as long and potent as ever with hardly anything having been returned to the public purse. (3)
The annual 1997 Human Rights Report of US State Department said the Accountability Commission, established by the caretaker government and headed by a retired judge, had been overshadowed by an "accountability cell," headed by a close associate of the Prime Minister. This cell had been accused of conducting politically motivated investigations of politicians, senior civil servants, and business figures, designed to extract evidence and, in some cases, televised confessions of alleged wrongdoers. The report gave the examples of televised confessions extracted from Salman Farooqi, secretary of commerce under Benazir Bhutto; Ahmed Sadiq, Benazir Bhutto's principal secretary; and Zafar Iqbal, chairman of the Capital Development Authority. It said most politicians and bureaucrats, who had been charged with corruption or other crimes, were out on bail (in addition to murder, Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, had also been charged with corruption).
Anti-terrorism Act or a license to kill?
On August 13, one day before the nation celebrated 50th anniversary of its independence, the Anti-Terrorism Act was bulldozed through parliament without so much as a debate. The Act has justifiably been criticized by almost across the board, even from within the ranks of the ruling party and its coalition allies. Yet on the day that it was introduced in parliament, the ATA was endorsed within three hours. Its numerous critics maintained that the ATA turns the country into a police state and it violates the constitution. The ATA, in effect, gives the law enforcing agencies and army a license to kill as it empowers the police to kill a person on mere suspicion. It also empowers the police to search a house and arrest a person without warrant.
The ATA provides an appeal against the special court judgement to a government-notified tribunal consisting of two High Court judges. The High Court has now power of appeal against the special court decision. A person accused under the ATA cannot be freed on bail even by the High Court.
The judiciary also opposed the ATA and many feared that the law would be grossly abused. Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, failed to convince Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, on August 20, of the need to establish special courts under the ATA. The bar associations also condemned the law.
Adding to the credibility problem of the anti-terrorism law was the attitude of law minister Khalid Anwer who first surprised his colleagues by allowing the government to push through this piece of dubious legislation. Khalid Anwer then proceeded to distance himself from the ATA a few days after it was enacted. He even went so far as to declare that he would have opposed the law, had he been in the opposition. This was then followed by the claim that the law would be phased out once the situation was under control.
Six special courts started work in the Punjab province on August 25 while the special courts were established in the Sindh province on August 25. The critics fears came true when the police started sending cases to special speedy trial courts set up under the ATA. The Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory was reported under pressure from the government to issue 'positive results' about weapons used in cases being tried by the special courts set up under the ATA.
According to a press report (4) weapons used in more than 1,000 cases were sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory to ascertain whether or not they were used by the accused during the terrorist or sectarian act for which he was being tried. Interestingly, all the weapons tested positive with the experts, providing sufficient evidence for the prosecution to obtain maximum punishment for the accused.
These reports formed part of the evidence against the accused and on its basis as many as 55 people have been sentenced to death, including three sectarian accused. Some 32 people have been sentenced to life imprisonment or for seven years rigorous imprisonment.
Following the establishment of anti-terrorist courts police started sending cases of sectarian and terrorist incidents to these courts for speedy adjudication. However, in a majority of cases sufficient evidence was not available to establish the guilt of the accused and the government feared that the courts might acquit them.
The officials of the Forensic Science Laboratory were reportedly directed by the government to issue 'positive results' in all cases involving sectarian incidents. After every incident police collected shells of the weapons from the scene of crime. Whenever an accused was arrested, police claimed having recovered automatic weapons from his custody. In some cases the bullet shells collected from a crime scene years ago matched with the weapons recovered from the accused on arrest. It was ironic that some officials insist on matching the shells recovered from a scene of crime in 1990 with that of a weapon recovered from the custody of the accused in 1997. (5)