Gilani pays the price for
loyalty By Malik Ayub Sumbal
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's ruling party and
its coalition members are scrambling to nominate a
new prime minister following the disqualification
of Yousuf Raza Gilani for contempt of court.
The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that as
Gilani had failed to appeal an April 26 conviction
for contempt of court, he was barred from office.
The historic verdict was a major blow for
the government in its ongoing power struggle with
the judiciary. Unless the Pakistan People's Party
(PPP) can find a suitable replacement for Gilani
this week, general elections due in 2013 could
take place this year.
Three names have
been put forward: Minister for Water and Power
Ahmed Mukhtar, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, the textiles
minister, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the commerce
minister. Mukhtar, a senior PPP leader and former
defense minister, is considered the favorite.
Officials have said that if the PPP and
its coalition partners can agree on a nominee this
week, he or she will then just need the approval
of parliament before taking charge. The PPP-led
governing coalition commands a majority in
However, this "judicial coup",
as some analysts are calling it, is still likely
to push the country towards a new phase of
political instability. Islamabad already had its
hands full with a raging Taliban insurgency,
financial crisis and deteriorating relations with
long-time ally the United States.
was convicted in April for "ridiculing" the
judiciary as he had not obeyed a court order from
November 2009 that he draft a letter to the Swiss
government asking it to reopen a
multi-million-dollar corruption investigation into
President Asif Ali Zardari.
long insisted Zardari had immunity as head of
state and that writing to the Swiss would be a
violation of Pakistan's constitution, and on
Tuesday, the court said this April conviction had
"attained finality as no appeal was filed against
constitution, anyone convicted of "defaming" or
"ridiculing" the judiciary is barred from being an
member of parliament.
As ATol wrote in Swift
justice for Pakistan's premier (Asia Times
Online, May 1, 2012) the court order was related
to the conviction of Zardari and his slain wife,
Benazir Bhutto, in 2003 by a Swiss court for money
[T]ens of millions of dollars were
found stashed in Swiss banks in the couple's
names. The provenance of those funds was shady,
and they were due to be sentenced when
Pakistan's then-military dictator, General
Pervez Musharraf, came to their rescue [in 2009]
with a one-man law wiping the slate clean of a
raft of cases pending in the Pakistani courts,
for corruption and embezzlement of billions,
against the couple.
entitled the National Reconciliation Order, or
NRO, halted proceedings against Benazir and
Zardari in the Swiss courts, as well as giving
amnesty to thousands of politicians, political
workers and bureaucrats who were accused of
corruption, embezzlement, money laundering,
murder and terrorism.
standoff between the judiciary and the government
began in December 2009 when the apex court
annulled this graft amnesty.
sources in the Election Commission of Pakistan,
Gilani is now disqualified from any political role
for five years and cannot hold any official post
in the PPP. His photograph has been removed from
the Prime Minister's Office and the national flag
removed from his vehicles, amid other protocol.
The court has also backdated the
disqualification to 26 April, raising questions
over decisions Gilani has made in office since
then - including on the country's budget.
Opposition figures have hailed the court's
decision, saying this was a victory for the rule
of law. One of them, Ahsan Iqbal, told the
Washington Post that this shows "all people are
equal in the eyes of the law."
see any threat to democracy after this decision,"
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister,
said on national television. The government could
appoint a new prime minister or hold quick
elections, he said, "so we see the democratic
process is on the move."
observers have accused Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry of overstepping the Supreme
Court's boundaries in recent years, with Gilani's disqualification seen as further evidence
of a personal vendetta against Zardari.
Feisal Hussain Naqvi, a Lahore-based
lawyer who often works in the Supreme Court, told
the Wall Street Journal Asia that the decision
should've been made by the Election Commission, an
Former prime minister
Nawaz Sharif has said that by consistently
disobeying the court order to re-open corruption
cases against Zardari, Gilani not only dishonored
the judiciary but also hurt his own dignity.
"No matter who becomes the new prime
minister, he will have to write the letter [to the
Swiss authorities to open graft cases against
Zardari]," the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz
(PML-N) chief told the Pakistani Geo News channel.
With the PPP government likely to survive
the fallout from the disqualification and Zardari
emerging relatively unscathed, is is left to
Gilani to bear the brunt of his decision to act as
the president's bodyguard on the corruption issue.
Malik Ayub Sumbal is a senior
investigative journalist based in Islamabad. Malik
won the Syracuse University Mirror Award for 2012.
He can be reached at email@example.com
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