Today Chief Justice Chaudhry Mohammed Iftikhar is to appear again in front of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). It is not at all clear what will happen today or in the days to follow. But the verdict from ATP readers does seem to be quite clear.
The last week has been a whirlwind of disturbing development. Starting with the removal of Chief Justice Chaudhry Mohammad Iftikhar by the President, things just kept going from bad to worse. Protesting lawyers were mistreated, as was the Chief Justice, Minister Wasi Zafar embarrassed himself as well as the nation yet again, and most recently we saw that not just the judiciary but also the press is under stress as private TV channels are told to cool off and the GEO TV news show by Kamran Khan was banned.
We have tried to look at and make sense of these events fromvarious angles, including the poetic. But like Pakistanis everywhere we remain confused and concerned about the direction of events. Things seem to be spinning out of control. The government seems to be panicking. And public frustration with the turn of events is escalating.
But one thing is very clear. Much more clear, in fact, than one might have imagined. It is not just that these events have left Pakistanis rattled, it is also that the sacking of Chief Justice Chaudhry Mohammad Iftikhar is not supported by many – and possibly most – Pakistanis. At least this has been the result of the ATP Poll that we have been running the last many days and which we today closed. Notwithstanding the fact that this was not a scientific poll and was subject to all the (many) limitations and problems of web-based polls, this is a result one can be quite confident of. Indeed, one did not need to run a poll to come to this conclusion. It is obvious from the reaction of the lawyers, of judges, of shopkeepers, of the media, of bloggers, and just about everyone else. However, our poll results do strongly validate the all-too-evident view. Here are some highlights:
- At the time of closing the Poll a total of 786 responses had been recorded (not including some 60 duplicate responses that were discarded).
- Of these 625 votes – a whopping 80 per cent – believe that the decision to remove teh Chief Justice was a wrong one and an expression of abuse of power by the President.
- Only 65 people – a mere 8 per cent – believe this to have been the right decision.
- 96 votes – 12 per cent – were for the ‘Don’t Know’ option; signifying that these people wanted more facts before they made up their mind.
- Votes were still trickling in at a steady pace when we closed the poll, but the interesting – and very surprising – finding is that the proportions for the three options have remained steady and nearly unchanged from the very beginning. Between 78-80% consider the decision wrong; around 8-9% consider it right. From the very beginning, this proportion never really changed even as events took many unforeseen twists and turns. (Compare this, for example, to our current cricket poll, where the response proportions have fluctuated widely over about the same period). This, in fact, is one reason why we closed the poll; it seems that what needs to be learned from it has been learnt – i.e., this decision is strongly rejected at least by the type of Pakistanis who woudl visit bogs like this!
- If one looks at the comments that go with the various posts on the subject, it is very striking that many people say that they were Musharraf supporters but are no more; that this and other recent events have pushed them out of that camp. Indeed, it seems from the comments that this vote is more ‘against’ Gen. Musharraf than ‘for’ Chief Justice Iftikhar.
While one must never over-analyze such non-scientific web-based polls that necessarily give only a snapshot of a limited internet-savvy community, the rather decisive numbers and the content of the accompanying comments suggests that the result is, in fact, rather robust. Long time readers of ATP will also realize that although the reader participation has been very enthusiastic, excited and even emotional, for most part most people have actually been in strong agreement. Indeed, while this has been an emotional discussion, it has not been a confrontational or even controversial one!
To end on a personal note, I want to say something about comments of despair for Pakistan that some people left here or are being made at other blogs. I must confess, I do not feel despair. Indeed, I think ordinary public – particularly lawyers, but also others including bloggers – have demonstrated that at our core we as a society DO WANT DEMOCRACY. Earlier this evening I was giving a lecture at Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government) on democracy in Pakistan and there I introduced the notion that “Pakistan is a democratic society trapped inside an undemocratic state” and that “this moment we are living through right now is a quinessentially democratic moment; a moment of turbulence, but also of hope.”
While the abuse of democratic norms by state institutions should be rightly condemned, let us not forget to celebrate the courageous and honest demonstration of democratic values by societal forces, including the legal profession, journalists, and ordinary citizens. Ultimately, it is not as much a question of ‘who will win’ as a question of whether the societal urge for democracy will overwhelm the statal desire for control… and, in that process, transform the state.
P.S. This video news report clip from GEO includes Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s response to the current state of affairs. In fairness, we should also give this a hearing.