Under normal circumstances, the victory would have hardly been celebrated. But the election of asma jahangir as the president of the hights laywer union is considered a ‘balancing factor’ in the currently convoluted government-judiciary relations.
In March last year, a sustained passionate movement by the legal fraternity culminated in the return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to his post from which he was unceremoniously removed.
Just 18 months later, the same community has given an altogether different verdict by electing a vocal critic of the judiciary who, some say, has been “over-assertive” on several occasions.
What initially appeared to be a three-way contest turned out to be one of the toughest battles between runner-up Ahmed Awais and victorious Asma Jahangir, who has already earned a name for herself by championing the cause of human rights.
Jahangir secured 835 votes from all eight polling stations – Lahore, Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Multan, Peshawar, Bahawalpur, Karachi and Quetta – while Ahmed Awais, the other candidate, got 796 votes. The third contestant, Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, bagged just 128 votes.
Jahangir climbed up the ladder of fame as a young enthusiastic lawyer back in the 1970s, winning a nerve-shattering battle against the martial law regime of former dictator General Yahya Khan.
Since then, Jahangir has always been a representative of the liberal face of an otherwise conservative Pakistan society, a distinction which has earned her both admirers and critics.
She initially supported the country-wide movement by fellow lawyers for the restoration of judges removed by then president Pervez Musharraf.
But more recently she has been urging ‘caution’ to the Supreme Court in cases like the judicial review of a constitutional amendment and reopening of graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari in courts abroad. Three former SCBA presidents and prominent names of the lawyers’ movement – Ali Ahmed Kurd, Munir A Malik and Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood – were backing Jahangir for this crucial election.
Interestingly, these three personalities had won the top slots from the platform of the ‘Professional Group’, led by Hamid Khan. This time around, however, the group was behind Awais.
Jahangir’s election has broken Hamid Khan group’s series of successes: representatives of the same group have been holding the SCBA’s top slot for the past four years.
Although Asma herself denies having any government allegiance, it is obvious that officials of the PPP administration had been actively supporting her during the electioneering.
The government would have had to face a formidable situation if Awais had won the elections in the wake of the current judiciary-executive tussle, but the question is: would Jahangir’s election to the top SCBA slot let the government heave a sigh of relief?
For obvious reasons, President Zardari was the first to greet Jahangir: it is his government which had a lot at stake. The defeat of a candidate backed by lawyers hostile to him is an apparent indication that the judiciary, if confronted, might not have the solid wall of willing foot soldiers to wage a fight for it on the streets like they did in the past. One thing can be said for sure: her election is likely to impact not just the country’s body politics, but it will also affect the internal unity of the legal fraternity.
Wednesday’s results also make another major revelation: the apparent unity of the lawyers community, which appeared to be a galvanised group since Musharraf’s sacking of Justice Chaudhry in 2007, has been torn asunder.
In the presence of a clear division in the legal community, it will not be smooth sailing for either of the group’s bid to assert as the community leader.