Gilani convicted of contempt, awarded symbolic term
The Pakistan Supreme Court on Thursday convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of the contempt of court and sentenced him till the rising of the court, plunging the country into a new phase of uncertainty and instability.
The judgment sparked a flurry of demands from opposition leaders and prominent jurists that Gilani must step down. However, Gilani, backed by the federal cabinet and coalition allies, appeared defiant. He said he would continue to discharge his duties till he enjoyed confidence of parliament.
His counsel Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan later said an appeal would be filed against the ruling. He contended the bench went beyond the chargesheet to convict the premier for ridiculing the court that entailed his disqualification.
The seven-member bench of the court convicted Gilani for contempt of court, under Article 204 (2) of the Constitution for “willful flouting, disregard and disobedience” of this court’s direction in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) verdict annulling the ordinance.
The court, however, did not go deep into the issue of disqualification, although it made an oblique reference to the constitutional provision that, it said, was likely to have serious consequences (meaning unseating and disqualifying the PM). It sentenced Gilani to be in its custody till the rising of the court, a period that lasted only 30 seconds.
A subsequent press release by the court said the PM had served the sentence and was “released” after the judges rose for the day.
Dejected Gilani stood listlessly on the rostrum while the judgment was being read. He walked out of the courtroom after the judges had retired. He was accompanied by his sons, cabinet colleagues and PPP leaders. A section of the media quoted him as saying: “I had come to the court hoping justice would be done.”
Gilani later presided over a cabinet meeting which was attended by provincial governors and chief ministers of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, Jamaat Islami Amir Munawwar Hussain and several other opposition leaders have demanded Gilani’s resignation. Imran Khan described the verdict as a “gift from the court to the people of Pakistan” and said the Prime Minister now had no moral justification to continue in the office.
Sharif also endorsed this view and declared that his party would no more recognise Gilani as the chief executive and would raise the issue in the National Assembly session later in the evening. He also asked for holding elections immediate and offered to cooperate in the formation of a neutral government to supervise fair, free and transparent polls.
Legal opinion, however, was divided whether the verdict automatically disqualified the Prime Minister. Gilani’s counsel Ahsan said there was a procedure for that involving the speaker of the National Assembly to whom the case would be referred for a decision within a month. “If she concurs that a situation has arisen for Gilani being disqualified, she will send a recommendation to the election commission for final ruling within three months. In between, the Prime Minister has been authorised to go for an appeal.
President Asif Zardari reached Islamabad in the afternoon. He immediately began consultations with party leaders and legal experts to ready a political and legal response.
There were some incidents of small crowds taking to the street in various cities, particularly in Sindh and Gilani’s home town Multan, in protest against the judgment. PPP activists raised slogans against the SC.
The verdict as a “gift from the court to the people of Pakistan”. The Prime Minister has no moral justification to continue in the office now.
I had come to the court hoping justice would be done.
The PML-N will no more recognise Gilani as the chief executive and raise the issue in the National Assembly.