Pervez 2002 vote illegal: Ex-judge

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 31.05.07

Islamabad, May 30 (AP): A former judge claimed yesterday that President Pervez Musharraf had no authority to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, arguing that the 2002 referendum that kept the military ruler in power was unconstitutional.

Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, a senior lawyer and former judge, said Pakistan is at a “defining moment” in its history as it faces political turmoil over the March 9 suspension of Chaudhry on allegations that he abused his office.

Musharraf still appears to have the backing of his western allies, who value him for fighting terrorism, but ousting the judge has triggered mass protests and violent unrest at home, galvanising political opponents who label him a dictator.

“People are worried,” Ibrahim, speaking on behalf of the bar association of Baluchistan province, told a 13-judge supreme court panel hearing a slew of petitions challenging the ouster.

“We have made many mistakes. But the time has come to rectify them. The ship of the state is sinking,” he said.

The 2002 referendum gave Musharraf, who seized control in a 1999 coup, five more years in power. Ibrahim said the constitution has no provision for such a referendum, leaving Musharraf’s continued rule with no legitimacy.

“People were made into fools,” Ibrahim said of the referendum, adding that the vote’s lack of legal authority leaves Musharraf “not competent”.

Ibrahim called for an end to military rule, saying Musharraf had received a stamp of approval from a subservient parliament. Musharraf is expected to seek a new five-year presidential term later this year from the same parliament, but has yet to announce whether he will give up his position as army chief — the source of most of his power.

“If you don’t say farewell to arms, farewell to the constitution,” Ibrahim said.

Hamid Khan, a lawyer for the Pakistan Bar Council, told the panel that Musharraf removed the judge in a “slipshod and perfunctory manner”.

One of Chaudhry’s attorneys, Aitzaz Ahsan, alleged yesterday that Musharraf wants to “humble, humiliate and subjugate” the chief justice and remove him from office.

Ahsan filed a written affidavit in which Chaudhry described the March 9 meeting, saying Musharraf and chiefs of his intelligence services pressured him to resign over allegations that he secured cars for his family from the supreme court.

Analysts and opposition parties claim Musharraf wants to sideline the independent-minded judge, fearing legal challenges of the President’s quest for a new term. The government, however, has denied any political motive.

Proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Council on whether the judge should be sacked or reinstated have been suspended until the supreme court decides on Chaudhry’s petition. It is unclear when the court will reach a verdict.