Might President Musharraf do what Mahathir did? Commentary
Might President Musharraf do what Mahathir did?
Edited by: JURIST Commentator

Ali Khan [Washburn University School of Law]: "Pakistan's Supreme Court is most likely to declare that the Executive order to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry violates Articles 175(3) and 209(5) of the Constitution. If the Chief Justice is reinstated, the question remains whether President Musharraf will obey the Supreme Court.

If Musharraf opts to follow the footsteps of the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, all bets are off. In 1980s, Mahathir began to collide with the Malaysian Supreme Court, calling the judges "black sheep who want to be fiercely independent." Mahathir was frustrated over the Court's exercise of judicial review (as has been Musharraf over the suo moto activism of the Pakistan Supreme Court). The Lord President (Chief Justice) of the Malaysian Supreme Court, Tun Salleh Abbas , wrote a confidential letter to the Malaysian King on behalf of all the 20 judges of the Supreme and High Courts, expressing disappointment over Mahathir's rhetoric against the Judiciary. In response, Mahathir suspended the Lord President and sent the reference to a judicial tribunal, chaired by a member of the Supreme Court. The Lord President moved the Supreme Court to grant an injunction against the tribunal, which the Court did. Mahathir fired the entire panel of five Justices who granted the injunction. Mahathir's supporters accused the Justices of spending public funds for buying luxury items. The tribunal removed the Lord President, and the head of the tribunal assumed the office of the new Lord President. Although the Bar Council of Malaysia refused to recognize the new Lord President, the crisis dealt a severe blow to the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary.

The facts surrounding the suspension of the two Chief Justices are intriguingly similar. It appears as if Mahathir has been whispering in Musharraf's ear. It seems unlikely, though, that Musharraf will suspend the 13 Justices of the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the lawyers' protests in Pakistan are much more forceful than the protests of the Malaysian Bar Council. And Chief Justice Chaudhry appears to have mustered much more public support than did Lord President Abbas. Most important, Mahathir was a popular Prime Minister and Malaysia was doing economically well under his leadership. Musharraf may also be counting on an improving economy for the final act of the play. After the Supreme Court verdict, the judicial crisis will fully ripen. Musharraf will measure his popularity among the people. If the polls show that a respectable majority of Pakistanis continue to support the government, Musharraf might ignore the Supreme Court's order to reinstate the Chief Justice. In that case the President will win a battle to the detriment of larger national interests."

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