The Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to dismiss Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani signals the unnatural death of another civilian government. While less dramatic than the military variety, this judicial coup—carried out on the pretext that Mr. Gilani refused to pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari—perpetuates the cycle of unelected institutions “rescuing” Pakistanis from their own chosen leaders.
The man responsible for this constitutional crisis is Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was once hailed as a democratic hero for standing up to the last military strongman, General Pervez Musharraf, in 2007. It’s not the first time the court has come close to disqualifying Mr. Gilani from office. Last December, he accused the military of being behind the effort. “I want to make it clear that there are conspiracies going on to pack up the elected government,” Mr. Gilani said at the time.
Whether or not it should be called a conspiracy, there certainly is a confluence of forces gunning for the Prime Minister and Mr. Zardari. This makes it impossible for the government to function normally, with no end in sight. Presumably the Supreme Court would order any new Prime Minister to pursue the same corruption case against the President, and hold him in contempt as well should he refuse. New elections may be the only way to break the deadlock.
Pakistan can ill afford this political wrangling as the economy falters and terrorist groups gain strength. Public confidence in democratic institutions, shaky to begin with, is in free fall, and the middle class continues to emigrate. Pakistan has defied predictions of failed statehood before, but testing its luck again with another undemocratic transition is foolhardy.
Having stepped in to overthrow so many civilian Presidents, the judiciary and military view coups as their prerogative and even duty. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this time democratically elected leaders managed to stay in power for an impressive four years—Mr. Gilani is already the longest-serving civilian Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history—and the coup-makers felt constrained by public revulsion at a return to military rule.
Nevertheless, the self-anointed defenders of Pakistan’s interests have again succeeded in crippling Pakistan’s democracy. Mr. Zardari and Mr. Gilani may fairly be accused of bungled leadership and inept policy making. But Pakistan will never reach political maturity until democratic governments are allowed to serve out their terms at the pleasure of the people, not unelected elites.
Source: Wall Street Journal