Friday, April 08, 2022

Pakistan's court defends democracy

Over the weekend there was a constitutional crisis in Pakistan. Dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Imran Khan had led to a confidence vote, with a major coalition partner defecting immediately beforehand. So, to avoid losing, Khan alleged he was the victim of a US plot to oust him, had his stooge deputy speaker prevent the vote, then purported to dissolve parliament and call new elections. But today, Pakistan's Supreme Court called bullshit on that:

Pakistan’s supreme court has dealt a devastating blow to the prime minister, Imran Khan, by ruling that he acted unconstitutionally in dissolving parliament prior to a confidence vote he was expected to lose, and ordering the vote to go ahead this weekend.

In the conclusion to a hearing that has gripped Pakistan for the past four days, the chief justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial, said Khan had violated the law in his attempt to stop the vote, which was widely expected to oust him.

The verdict said Khan was wrong to instruct the deputy speaker of the house, a close ally, to suspend the vote and wrong to ask the president to dissolve parliament on Sunday morning.

The bench of five judges ordered that a session of the national assembly be held on Saturday to allow for the confidence vote to go ahead. No member of the parliament will be restricted from voting.

And so the decision on who gets to be Prime Minister will be left where it belongs: with the national assembly. As it should have been all along. There are obvious parallels with Samoa's recent constitutional crisis (where the PM who had lost an election conspired to prevent parliament from meeting, then tried to call new elections in an effort to avoid being formally voted out), but as in that case, the judiciary stepped up to defend democracy.

Meanwhile, the only protection we have against this happening in New Zealand is convention, and the courts would be prevented from intervening by parliamentary privilege and a lack of written law around the confidence / dissolution process. While our convention is strong, it only works until it doesn't. Backing it with statute is something we ought to do one day, just to ensure our democracy can face any future challenge.