LHC wants clear answer: Can president keep off politics?
16 February, 2013
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has directed the federal government's counsel to obtain clear-cut instructions from President Asif Ali Zardari whether he is willing to refrain from political meetings and activities in the public arena or not.
The full bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, is hearing a contempt petition against President Asif Ali Zardari for not shunning political activities in view of an LHC judgment, issued in 2011. The full bench comprised Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh, Justice Sheikh Najamul Hassan and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
The LHC observed if the post of the president was being 'used' to the benefit of a particular political party, it would be a contempt of the court order."Whereas the private life and the private activities of the president are not open to scrutiny, but his public life and public activities cannot be separated from his persona (personality) as the President of Pakistan.
"The counsel (Wasim Sajjad) shall obtain specific instructions whether the president is willing to refrain from indulging in political meetings and activities in the public arena," the court wrote in its short order.
The bench has also rejected the federal government's proposal to find out a middle way to resolve the contempt issue against the president.As the hearing started on Friday, the chief justice asked Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Irfan Qadir whether he wanted the bench to hear his submissions or concentrate on settling the issue.
The AGP replied that the matter should be resolved. However, he said he was going abroad and had little time to reach the airport.The AGP said he had great regard for the court and he should be considered as a friend of the court. He said it would be the best way to adopt a middle path for the majesty of law.
The bench accepted therequest of the AGP to leave and observed that the court would seek his assistance, if necessary. Advancing arguments, Advocate Wasim Sajjad said he had submitted throughout the case proceedings that no contempt was made and requested the bench to correct its last order.
The chief justice observed that the court would look into the matter and asked the counsel to proceed further and focus on the petitioner's application regarding the latest political activities of the president based on newspaper clippings.
Wasim replied that it was impossible for the government to contradict all incorrect news reports and mentioned that the media also misquoted his statement the last time.
The media was publishing baseless reports and nobody had any right to interfere in the president's personal life. As elections were approaching fast, more political rallies would take place and hence such allegations would keep coming up every now and then, Wasim said requesting the court to stay away from the political environment.
He argued that the dual office case verdict dealt with political activities in the Presidency and the political office enjoyed by the president. He said he had already submitted that no political meetings would be held in the Presidency and president did not have any political office.
However, the chief justice pointed out that it was mentioned in para 39 of the dual office case verdict that the president should be impartial and remain aloof from politics. He contended that the president could, in his private capacity, meet political personalities and also deal with political issues. However, he was not in a position to confirm as to whether the president would refrain from indulging in political activities or meetings with political personalities in the public arena, the court said.
Wasim Sajjad replied that the observation was made with reference to the Nawaz Sharif case wherein it was alleged that the president was acting in a discriminatory manner. He added that such an allegation was not leveled against the president in the instant case.
He said private activities of the president were not questioned in the present case but if they were challenged in future, those would be dealt with accordingly. The president is a symbol of the federation and he should not be made controversial.
Citing the Tahirul Qadri case, he contended that the petitioner had not come to the court with clean hands and in the contempt case against the president. "It was a very fragile point that the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarian (PPPP) were different parties. Will the president go in public arena?" the head of the bench posed query before the counsel for the federation.
Wasim replied it was not an issue before the court and attention should be focused on the dual office case verdict only.He said the court should avoid discovering new area against the president. He reiterated that the president was performing his duties as per his oath and there was no allegation regarding discharge of his official duties.
However, the bench directed Wasim Sajjad to take instructions from the president whether he was willing to refrain from indulging in political activities in the public arena, observing that the maintainability of the petition would be decided after the reply.
The court also issued a notice to the federation on a civil miscellaneous application moved by the petitioner, saying the president had actively participated in political activities during his recent visit to Lahore. The court also issued a notice to respondent on application and adjourned hearing till March 8.
Online adds: The LHC instructed the government's lawyer to submit a detailed report on President Asif Zardari's political activities during his stay in Lahore recently.