In an expected move, the Supreme Court on Monday, January 16, 2012, issued a contempt of court notice to embattling Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for not implementing the court’s orders vis-à-vis notorious National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), under which some 8,000 cases of rampant corruption, murder, misuse of authority and other crimes were withdrawn by former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
Gilani, who has been avoiding the implemention of the apex court’s orders with respect to the NRO, struck between General Musharraf, and the slain Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto in Dubai under a power-sharing deal brokered by the US and the UK governments, apparently to save President Asif Ali Zardari, who would be one the victims if orders are implemented.
“There is no way left but to issue the contempt of court notice to the Prime Minister”, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, one of the members of a larger bench of the Supreme Court remarked during the hearing.
The Prime Minister, who had been given orders time and again by the Supreme Court, but constantly refused to obey them, is asked to appear before the court in person on January 19, 2012.
The Supreme Court in 2009 declared the NRO null and void as it was against the fundamental human rights and the constitution ordering the government to reopen all the cases withdrawn under the infamous ordinance.
The major bone of contention between the government and the Supreme Court is a money laundering case that was withdrawn by the government under the NRO. The case involves President Asif Ali Zardari, who claims that he enjoys immunity under article 248-A of the constitution. Therefore, the government will not write any letter to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of the money laundering case against him, whereas the apex court deems otherwise.
The legal fraternity stands divided on the outcome of the contempt of court notice.
A section of lawyers believe that the Prime Minister will be disqualified from holding any public office if the contempt of court is proved against him.
However, another group of legal experts think that the term of disqualification would be decided by the court in its judgment in case the contempt of court is proved.
According to penal code of Pakistan, the maximum punishment for contempt of court is six months, and disqualification from holding any public office. Earlier, the disqualification in any case was forever, however after 18th amendment in the constitution passed by the incumbent parliament in 2010, the disqualification period has been set to 5 years.
“The disqualification period in any other case, except the contempt of court will be for five years (after the 18th amendment). However it will remain forever in a contempt of court case”, Ismat Mehdi, a Karachi-based senior lawyer told “Islam Online”.
She, however, observes that Gilani will be disqualified from the office of Prime Minister, and will remain a member of the National Assembly.
“The contempt of court, if proved, will automatically oust him from the office of Prime Minister, but he will not be de-seated from the national assembly forthwith”, she said.
“The Supreme Court will write to the Speaker National Assembly, and the Election Commission, and they will act accordingly”, she maintained.
Noor Naz Agha, another senior lawyer of the Supreme Court believes that the disqualification period will be set by the Supreme Court in case of a judgment against the Prime Minister.
“He (Gilani) may be or may not disqualified from holding any public office forever in case a negative judgment is held against him”, Ms. Agha told “Islam Online”.
“There are different disqualification periods. It will be decided by the court whether the contempt of court is that of a criminal nature or something else”, she thought.
“It is pre-mature to say whether he will be disqualified forever, but for sure he will be disqualified in case of a judgment against him”, she contended.
Dr. Khalid Ranjha, a former law minister partially agrees with Ms. Agha,
“The Prime Minister can only be de-seated (from the National Assembly) in two ways i.e. either he resigns or the parliament does that. There is no other way for that”, Ranjha said.
Moreover, he says, the Prime Minister will still have the option to file a review petition in case the contempt of court is proved against him.
Politicians and political analysts observe that the contempt of court notice may pave the way for early elections in this South Asian Muslim state, which has been facing political turmoil for the last six months involving the government, the judiciary, and the powerful army.
Opposition leaders including the former Jammat-e-Islami Chief Qazi Hussein Ahmed, Chairman Pashtunkhuwa Milli Awami Party, Mahmood Khan Acahkzai, and former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, called on the Prime Minister on Monday, January 16, 2012 soon after the issuance of the contempt of court notice.
Sources privy to the Prime Minister house told “Islam Online” that the opposition leaders who called on Gilani on his own request, suggested new elections.
Ansar Abbassi, an Islamabad-based political analyst opines that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) may “sacrifice” its Prime Minister to avoid the government’s ouster.
However, he is afraid that the sacrifice won’t work either.
“The situation has reached a no-return point”, Abbassi told “Islam Online”.
“The government’s ambitions and plans are very clear. It has refused time and again to write a letter to the Swiss authorities as per the apex court’s judgment. Even if a new Prime Minister is elected, he too will toe the dictation from President Zaradri”, he contended.
“The government and the judiciary will remain locked in horns even (if) Gilani resigns”, Abbassi insisted.
Therefore, he believes, the only option that could steer the country out of the existing political turmoil is the holding of new elections.
“Gilani has very limited options. He either has to write a letter to the Swiss authorities, or to resign. Otherwise, disqualification is awaiting him”, he maintained.