Will Gilani survive?
Is Yousuf Raza Gilani trying to stick to the hallowed tradition of Pakistan’s prime ministers (and presidents) being removed either by God or kicked out by men?
People are asking why Yousuf Raza Gilani refuses to call it a day and go quietly back to his cozy gaddi about whose respectability Choudhry Aitezaz Ahsan, the Indus Man, went lyrical before the Supreme Court not long ago. They are amazed at Gilani’s tactic of sticking to his chair in spite of being a convict and call it shameless audacity. His own side, however, affectionately calls him “Teflon prime minister,” drawing a parallel with US president Ronald Reagan who initially held the title.
But here they ignore the sharp contrast. Reagan earned the sobriquet for his nonchalant, almost disdainful attitude towards criticism from his detractors. He never defied a court of law, nor was he ever convicted for any felony.
Gaddi-nasheen Gilani, on the other hand, is a convicted felon. The Supreme Court of Pakistan sentenced him to jail “till the rising of the court” for the offence of contempt in the face of the court. Instead of being mortified and downcast, the prime minster walked away after serving the punishment with a broad smile, like the culprits after being publicly lashed on their bare buttocks during the Zia ul Haq government.
But, the gaddi nasheen is out to demonstrate the difference between a prime minister and a peon. A peon submits to the law but the law submits to a prime minister. A peon cannot defy the orders of any court; a prime minster can defy even the Supreme Court. Besides, he is following the hallowed tradition set by his predecessors. None of them had the chance to complete their constitutionally mandated term of office. They were either assassinated (Liaquat Ali Khan) or forced out.
Those who watch him thumping his chest and claiming that no one ( except a non-confidence motion against him carried through in the National Assembly) can remove him from office, recall how, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had shouted at the peak of her voice in the parliament that nobody had brought her into power and nobody can remove her from power. Yet within days of her bravado speech she was booted out. Likewise, ZAB had thumped at the arms of his chair before TV cameras and roared, “This chair is strong.” Yet, only a couple of days he was toppled from the same chair. But Gilani seems to have a short memory.
Didn’t Gilani know that his interlocutors in Britain were aware of this ugly side of his character? Yet, he went there with more than six dozen cheerleaders and drumbeaters in tow and had the temerity to grin. He even gave an interview to BBC’s Becky Andersen. And when it was pointed out to him that according to a recent Gallup study nearly 30 per cent of Pakistanis want to leave the country, he cynically asked, “Why don’t they leave then? Who is stopping them?” If that is not crass chutzpah, then you don’t know what chutzpah is.
As to the Supreme Court’s short order, it may be divided into two parts. One is the punishment directly awarded. That part has been executed. The other part that relates to his conduct has wider ramifications. It found that Gilani’s defiant refusal to implement the NRO verdict fully, was “substantially detrimental to the administration of justice’ and that it had brought ‘this court and the judiciary of this country into ridicule.”
In the detailed judgment this view has been further clarified. This part of the ruling, since it ineluctably invokes Article 63(1) (g) of the Constitution, points to the indirect consequences. To remove any ambiguity about whether or not Article 63(1) (g) would apply to the case, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the only mitigating factor in passing a lenient sentence against Gilani is that he is likely to suffer further punishment under this article of the Constitution.
According to Article 63(1) (g): “A person shall be disqualified from being a member of the parliament if ‘he has been convicted …for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to ... the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridi- cule the judiciary ...”
The Short Order has found Gilani guilty of having “brought the judiciary into ridicule,” by his defiant conduct. There can be no question therefore, that he should face the penalty prescribed under Article 63(1) (g), despite all the rallies taken out and resolutions passed in his support by the jiyalas of his party.
The application of Article 63(1) (g) is required to be set in motion by the speaker of the National Assembly under Article 63(2), which reads as follows:
“If any question arises whether
a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) has become disqualified from being a member, the Speaker or, as the case may be, the Chairman shall, unless he decides that no such question has arisen, refer the question to the Election Commission within thirty days and should he fail to do so within the aforesaid period it shall be deemed to have been referred to the Election Commission.”
And Article 63 (3) lays down that “The Election Commission shall decide the question within ninety days from its receipt or deemed to have been received and if it is of the opinion that the member has become disqualified, he shall cease to be a member and his seat shall become vacant.”
Speaker Fehmida Mirza took her full time to ponder over the issue and gave her decision just a few days before the end of the time limit. In her ruling she found that “no specific charge regarding the propagation of any opinion or acting in any manner against the independence of the judiciary or defaming or ridiculing the judiciary as contemplated under Article 63 (1) (g) has been framed” (by the apex court).
Based on the above finding she formed the view that “the charges against Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani are not relatable to the grounds mentioned in paragraph (g) or (h) of clause (1) of Article 63, therefore, no question of disqualification of Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani from being a member arises under clause (2) of Article 63 of the Constitution.”
The Speaker and the prime minister are now complimenting each other. She is stressing her authority to decide. He is trumpeting that the power of the parliament transcends all other institutions and that the speaker’s verdict is unchallengeable in any court of law.
Nonetheless, the PML ( N) and PTI have challenged the speaker’s ruling. The issue therefore is far from closed.