IT has taken only a matter of days for the Supreme Court judgment against Prime Minister Gilani to translate into a full-blown political confrontation. So long as ministers and other senior figures on either side of the parliamentary divide were sniping at each other, the matter could have been contained. But yesterday, Nawaz Sharif upped the ante by demanding the resignation of the prime minister, and if that was not forthcoming the PML-N supremo pledged to launch a protest movement. At the moment, the PML-N’s game-plan is not clear: does it hope to use the protest movement to build pressure for early elections or is this just an attempt to shed the last vestiges of the ‘friendly opposition’ tag with elections on the horizon? Using the SC-government tussle over the Swiss letter for electoral ends is not without risks. It isn’t clear if a pro-judiciary-type movement can be fashioned out of this particular issue as it was several years ago when Gen Musharraf had tried to shut Chief Justice Chaudhry out of office. The earlier campaign helped the PML-N to unexpected success in the 2008 elections but this time round the matter is less clear-cut. The PML-N brain trust will be furiously calculating the potential gains versus the risk that a protest movement which doesn’t catch the imagination of the public could pose to the PML-N at the next election.
So far, the more sensible route to follow appears to be the one suggested by Prime Minister Gilani. The prime minister’s suggestion in the Senate yesterday that everyone wait for the SC’s full judgment was obviously laced with self-interest. Delay has been a central part of the PPP’s strategy in its troubles with the court. However, the pledge inside parliament by the prime minister that if he were de-notified he would accept the verdict and go home is one that the opposition ought to take seriously and hold him to. After all, the PML-N has the right to ask the speaker of the National Assembly to refer the matter of Mr Gilani’s disqualification to the Election Commission and if the final judgment of the SC clarifies the ambiguity of the short order, the matter should be settled relatively quickly.
Yet, the sensible path is not always the one treaded by the political class here. After four years of relative calm, with a general election at most a year or so away, the PML-N’s and the PPP’s calculations may lean towards confrontation at this point in time. Perhaps if the full judgment of the SC were issued soon, some of the uncertainty may be lifted and matters could settle down again.