Whither is the prime minister? This is a question that most of the nation is grappling with these days as the case of the prime minister’s contempt of court proceeds along in the Supreme Court.
Aitzaz Ahsan, newly-elected senator and chief defence counsel of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, is busy trying to draw out his arguments in the court for as long as he can though so far he is sticking to the government line of refusing to make any promises that a letter would be written to the Swiss courts. On the other hand, it is not possible to read the court’s mood.
Legal minds too are not much confident on what the future can or may bring.
“If I am asked to bet on the possible outcome of this case, I will place my money on the immediate disqualification of the prime minister. It is the only option the Supreme Court is left with,” said a senior lawyer of the court, on the condition of anonymity.
In his opinion, after repeatedly flouting the Supreme Court orders on the NRO judgment and using public forums to give inflammatory speeches, the prime minister could be held disqualified under the Article 63 (g) of the Constitution. Under this article, a member of the National Assembly could be disqualified for ridiculing the judiciary.
However, others are more cautious in their predictions though they are of the opinion that the court has the power to send Gilani home.
Salman Akram Raja, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, said the court had the right to pass a judgment that could compel the prime minister to immediately relinquish the charge.But what about the constitutional requirement that it is the speaker who initiates the process for the disqualification of a member of the National Assembly who has been convicted.
Raja said, “Technically speaking, the power does lay with the speaker but under certain circumstances the court can order anything it wants.”
He substantiated his argument by referring to the apex court judgment on PCO judges. He said according to the constitution, a process had to be followed for the removal of a Supreme Court judge by sending the case to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
However, he pointed out that the Supreme Court had sent home the PCO judges without referring their cases to the SJC.
Similarly, in the case of Prime Minister Gilani’s conviction, “If a court judgment says that the prime minister for committing such and such crime ceases to be the chief executive of the country, he will have to go,” said Raja.
Second, he said, in this case the court had to come up with a clear-cut judgment because it had to avoid a situation in which an imprisoned prime minister would be holding the reins of the government.
Unlike Raja, however, S M Zafar, another Supreme Court lawyer, felt it was too premature to predict the outcome.
There was a long way to go before the court would eventually make up its mind, he added.
One, the government is yet to submit its response on the issue of writing a letter to the Swiss judicial authorities, though it was playing with the issue in public. Second, he pointed out that Aitzaz Ahsan had not completed his arguments.
Nonetheless, he felt that it would difficult for Gilani in particular and the PPP in general to continue with him as the prime minister in case of a conviction. “His conviction means that he has to go,” said Zafar.
Dr Rasool Bakhsh Rais, a political scientist, was also of the opinion that the government would delay D-day for as long as possible. With Aitzaz Ahsan standing with the prime minister, the government would fight to the last man and would utilise every procedural delay possible against the probable disqualification of Gilani.
However, the unhappy ending for the government is not the only option that the experts are willing to predict though it is the most plausible one.
When asked if the government could use its majority in the Parliament to strike back, Barrister Zafarullah Khan, a constitutional expert, said that at the most the government could pass a resolution against the judiciary. But he felt that such a stand off between judiciary and executive could have serious ramifications for the country.
But it is interesting that despite being aware of the mood of the judiciary, a senior PPP official was still confident enough to assert that “We are more than sure such a stage [the disqualification of the prime minister] will not arise.” firstname.lastname@example.org