If Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani’s disqualification had been for any reason other than not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities, would the shock (and grief) being expressed in the media and political circles be in equal measure? One doesn’t think so.
Right now, questions are being flung straight on at the judiciary as to why it decided to single an elected prime minister of a democratic set-up when the alleged sinner, the president, still sits smug in his office. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Mr Gilani has been barred from entering the parliament till he files a review petition against his conviction and the court accepts his argument, while at the same time the apex court has asked President Asif Ali Zardari to take necessary steps for continuation of “democratic process” in the country.
“The only fault of the former prime minister was that he upheld presidential immunity which the Constitution of the country enjoins him to do so,” Mr Gilani’s lawyer, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, still insists. Given that this case had been in the works for quite some time, and the non-negotiable attitude shown by both the judiciary and the executive, it was evident that Mr Gilani would have to bid farewell to premiership if convicted by the court. However, it was also assumed that the court would go through its decision, and the cat and mouse game would last till the next general elections were held. The judiciary’s decision did come as surprise, and many were left wondering what propelled the apex court to take this particular case up to send the PPP government packing.
World over, where democracies are operational, governments are sent home if found in financial mismanagement but in Pakistan the court took notice but did not dispense a fitting punishment in any of these cases. The highly politicised nature of the case has led the national media to term the decision as a ‘judicial coup’ against an elected government.
“There were a plethora of corruption cases allegedly committed by My Gilani’s family members and his cabinet colleagues on whose basis the court could have easily removed him,” explained one legal expert.
Indeed, Mr Gilani is surrounded by people with a fair share of scandalous links: his older son was directly involved in the Haj scandal, his younger son is under investigation for the ephedrine quota scam, major financial irregularities surfaced in the Rental Power Projects during his stint while state enterprises such as Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airline and Steel Mills were marked by grave mismanagement and dubious postings.
And so at the centre of the whole saga, the issue still thumps: what is the correct interpretation of Article 48 of the Constitution? Mr Gilani and the PPP stalwarts have maintained that the constitutional provision provides complete immunity to the sitting head of the state against prosecution in any court of law, and that he was not bound to follow the instructions of the court. On the other hand, the Supreme Court refused to budge from its ground, and insisted that the missive be sent.
Some legal experts rightly opine that if the Supreme Court had addressed the issue of presidential immunity before sending Mr Gilani home, questions would not have been arisen over the authenticity of the its judgment. “What is the use of sending an elected government home without attending the real issue of presidential immunity? The PPP has made it very clear that as long as it is part of the government, no letter would be sent to the Swiss authorities,” one of them said on the request of anonymity.
For now, the tug between the executive and judiciary is set to remain. Even if the new prime minister were to be nominated and expected to take oath, the Supreme Court would ask him to implement the NRO judgment asking the Swiss courts to reopen money laundering cases against President Zardari. Once again, the incumbent Prime Minister would be in the dock, explaining his government’s constitutional position on the issue, which the apex court would be unwilling to hear out.
On the other hand, the PPP leadership has accepted the decision to remove the prime minister but it does intend to take the matter up in the parliament. Needless to say, a lot of dirt is expected to fly on the floor especially since Dr Arsalan’s case is still under investigation. Rumour has it that the government is working on a bill to establish a separate constitutional court to address issues such as presidential immunity.
A senior PPP leader while talking to Dawn admitted that the party even with Mr Gilani’s dismissal has lost nothing. “The fact remains that the court removed an elected prime minister of a party that holds the majority in the house, and prevented it from completing its five-year term. While there has been jubilation as far as the opposition is concerned, people from across all sections of the society have spoken up against the court judgment.”
And yet another PPP sympathiser rightly concluded: “The Supreme Court has handed the PPP the ‘victim card’ on a silver platter that the party will undoubtedly ratchet up in the next general elections.