WEB DESK: As the PTI was preparing for its November 2 lockdown of Islamabad to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family to present themselves for accountability in the Panama Papers case the Supreme Court had saved the situation from getting out of control when it decided to invoke Article 184 (3) of the Constitution to hear the case as a question of public importance.
Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali heading a five-member bench had raised hopes of an early adjudication, saying at the outset that the court would hear the case on a daily basis and decide the matter itself. Those hopes came crashing down on Friday when Justice Jamali announced postponement of the case till the first week of January. Since he is to retire on December 31, he said, the proceeding will start afresh. He also indicated the court’s inclination to form a judicial commission – even though the two sides are known to have an unbridgeable disagreement over its terms of reference – saying “a commission will allow all parties to present their case.” The sense of urgency initially on display seems to have disappeared.
With the arguments starting anew before a new bench, and the likely formation of a contentious judicial commission, the proceedings promise to drag on ad infinitum. That could prolong the prevailing political uncertainty. Notably, when the court decided to hear the case the PTI had said it would accept the court verdict. That may change with the change in the court’s mood. In fact, the lead counsel for the party, Naeem Bokhari, submitted before the bench that his side is not in favour of a commission, and that if it is formed his side would boycott it. That means the PTI reserves its option to go back to the streets.
Considering that both sides had presented their arguments, a few more days of day-to-day proceedings should have been sufficient for the bench to come to a decision.
The delay in deciding the case and the resultant political uncertainty holds serious repercussions for the economy. The investor confidence is already low due to law and order issues and energy shortages; a trickier political outlook can only make a bad situation worse.
Needless to say, this is no ordinary case. The person involved is the prime minister of the country and the allegations against him are of serious nature. The case concerns not only the government and the four petitioners, especially the key challenger, the PTI, it is of wider public interest. No wonder the present decision may create a general sense of despondency about the justice system’s workings.
As it is, the case now stands where it was on November 1, when the PTI was threatening to lock down the capital city. And uncertainty continues to hang on the political scene.