We live in the embrace of a deprecated political and institutional culture. We live in a time when partisan loyalty and institutional solidarity trump the seemingly menial concerns of law and constitutionalism. We live in a society where respect for the law kneels at the perverted altar of partisan rhetoric and institutional turf-war. Time and again, we have demonstrated a proclivity for upholding personal prejudices over State priorities.

And somewhere along this process, we have blurred the line between political and national interests, as a result of which our democracy is bleeding into the bowl of political despotism.

The latest episode, in this regard, has been the caustic (and highly irresponsible) reaction of PML-N officials/government functionaries, to the verdict passed by Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik, in the election tribunal decision that nullified Ayaz Sadiq’s election from NA-122.

The third successive ‘defeat’ suffered by PML-N in the election tribunals (first Khawaja Saad Rafique, then Jahangir Tareen, and now Ayaz Sadiq) has extracted abominable rhetoric from leading PML-N officials, including Rana Sanaullah and Pervez Rasheed. As has now been widely reported, Rana Sanaullah, in his public comments accused Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik of deciding against Ayaz Sadiq because of an alleged grudge that the honorable judge held against PML-N, stemming from PML-N’s refusal to issue a party ticket to the judge’s son.

Rana Sanaullah, in his characteristic belligerence, called the decision of the election tribunal to be “a stain” on the independence of judiciary, and without discussing or rebutting the judgment on it’s merits, proceeded to undermine the integrity of the election tribunals. Similarly, Mr. Pervez Rasheed, as a loyal comrade, insisted that the Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik was biased in his judgment, and had decided the matter as a function of his “personal projection”, while ignoring the mandate of law.

In the days that followed, numerous PML-N loyalists, most of who hold offices within the Federal or Provincial State structure, appeared on national television to relentlessly badger the election tribunal for what they called a “biased” verdict. The matter got so out of hand that Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik, in a surprising public interview, accused Pervez Rasheed of hurling life threats against his person.

Sullying the project of justice, as part of partisan hackery, is a debilitating exercise. However, perhaps as a stretch, some barely coherent justification could be constructed for such conduct, in extreme circumstances. Nonetheless, what is absolutely unforgivable is for State functionaries (not just political personalities) to malign the person or institution of justice.

In the instant case, it needs to be asked: Are Rana Sanaullah’s comments his personal views? Or is this the stance of PML-N? Or most disturbingly, is he instead speaking as the law minister of the Province of Punjab? As the Law Minister, should his views be a reflection of the public office that he holds, which (at least in theory) owes loyalty to the people and laws of Punjab, as opposed to PML-N? Does the Province of Punjab and it’s State structure, which must be non-partisan in nature, believe that Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik has delivered a biased opinion? Should the honorable Law Minister, in at least a feigned allegiance to his office, not restrict his comments to the substantive and procedural aspects of the law alone?

Does the Federation of Pakistan, represented by its spokesperson, Pervez Rasheed – the Federal Minister for Information, Mass-Media, Broadcasting, and National Heritage – believe that the election tribunal rendered a tainted verdict? Is this the official opinion of his Ministry? If so, can the Federation, a constitutional entity, pass such contemptuous remarks about judicial officers? Or was Mr. Pervez Rasheed speaking solely as a partisan member of PML-N? Can he, as a Minister of the Federation, a constitutional office holder, express his personal or partisan views, while speaking from behind the emblem of the State of Pakistan?

These are nuanced issues, which find no space in our political discourse.

This instinct to disregard constitutional propriety, in defense of ‘king and party’ is nothing new for the members of PML-N, who in the past have demonstrated support to their leadership by ransacking the honorable Supreme Court, and threatening judges with physical harm. Cutting across the isle, just a few years ago a PPP Prime Minister willfully insisted on ignoring express commands of the court, by refusing to write letters to Swiss authorities, as a way of expressing loyalty to his political masters. Away from the sphere of politics, personnel within the Pakistan Army, for example, in fidelity to the doctrine of ‘unity of command’, have defended orders of (past) Army Chiefs, even as these violated the Constitution. Who can forget the barbarity of Punjab Police in Model Town, when it served as a brutal gang of personal servants of PML-N, as opposed to being servants of the public? And, in the judiciary itself, a resurgent and ‘independent’ Supreme Court, during the Iftikhar Chaudhry years, extinguished all voices of dissent against judgments pater familias – which legacy, thankfully came to an end just recently during the decision on 18th and 21st constitutional amendments.

We must find a way to evolve a political, social and constitutional culture that is not based on the ethos of being ‘more loyal than the king’. We must summon the courage to stay within the constitutional parameters of the law, even if that invites irk of our political masters. And even while voicing our discontent against judgments of the court, we must have the grace to resist doing so from constitutional posts and State authorities.

Mr. Pervez Rasheed, Rana Sanaullah, and other similar constitutional office-holders, even while they may have personal disagreements with verdicts of the tribunal, owe this nation, it’s people, and it’s constitution, an apology for turning this into a battle between competing organs of the State.