ISLAMABAD: Despite remaining in the eye of the storm because of allegations of corruption levelled against members of his family and cabinet colleagues, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will be known as a diehard party loyalist. The politician who preferred losing his job to going against the party decision, regardless of the fact that he had to disobey a Supreme Court order in the process, which eventually led to his disqualification as member of the National Assembly.
Besides sacrificing premiership, Mr Gilani has put his entire political career at stake because after the conviction by the apex court which he accepted by not filing a review petition he may not be able to contest any future elections.
Nonetheless, Mr Gilani has become the second longest serving prime minister with 1,494 days in power after Liaquat Ali Khan (1,524 days).
During his initial years as prime minister, there were rumours that he had developed serious differences with PPP co-chairman and President Asif Ali Zardari. Some even drew parallels between him and former president Farooq Leghari who had sent the Benazir government packing in 1996. For the PPP’s rank and file, the word Leghari is synonymous with betrayal.
But in the end, Mr Gilani proved everybody wrong. For all times to come, he will be remembered as a trusted PPP worker who stood by his party. After winning the 2008 general elections when the PPP leadership was busy choosing a candidate for the premiership, President Zardari once said: “I will opt for a PPP worker as PM who will happily go to jail with me.”
Mr Gilani eventually proved his selection correct. Although many in the opposition believed that the ultimate beneficiary of the corruption cases allegedly committed over the past few years was President Zardari and it was the former prime minister who faced criticism.
Except for the past couple of months since he had taken a hard line towards the PML-N leadership, Mr Gilani throughout his days in power tried to be on good terms with his opponents. On many occasions, he travelled to the residence of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif in Raiwind even when the two parties were at loggerheads on certain issues. His meetings with Mr Sharif in March 2009 when the PPP had imposed governor’s rule in Punjab played a key role in bringing normalcy to the political arena of the country.
In January last year when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement opted out of the coalition, Mr Gilani’s sojourn to ‘90’, MQM’s headquarters in Karachi, broke the ice and the party rejoined the government. His regular meetings with PML-Q leaders have been a routine affair since the party joining the PPP government in May 2011. According to a PML-Q lawmaker, Mr Gilani had personally favoured lawmakers of all political parties, either on the treasury or opposition benches, which helped him keep on playing an important role in politics.
During National Assembly sessions which Mr Gilani regularly attended, he was always surrounded by lawmakers across party lines, getting their files signed by him. Mr Gilani always took pride in not getting involved in political victimisation of his opponents. He was also known for his generous distribution of development funds among all members of the National Assembly, regardless of their party affiliation.
“On the political front, I consider him the most successful and polite prime minister who managed to go this far with ever fractious coalition partners,” said a veteran journalist who has been covering parliament since General Ayub’s days in the 60s. After presenting all five budgets, he had become the only civilian prime minister to achieve this milestone, he added.
Mr Gilani will also be remembered as the first prime minister who publicly challenged the dominance of the military top brass in public sphere. His remarks that he will not accept “a state within a state”, a direct reference to military authorities, and later the sacking of defence secretary Lt Gen (retd) Naeem Lodhi in January this year will remain a highlight of his career.