Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pakistani Prime Minister found guilty in contempt case by the Supreme Court

In a unanimous 7-0 verdict, the Supreme Court of Pakistan found the Prime Minister, Mr. Yousaf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt under Article 63.1 (g) of the Constitution. Anyone found guilty under this clause, is barred from holding a public office for a period of five years.

Anywhere else in the world, the Prime Minister would have resigned immediately on moral ground, but this is Pakistan, where politicians morals rank pretty low. The ruling Pakistan People's Party is in defiant mood and will try to stretch it out as much as possible, but there is a constitutional limit to that too.

Two years ago, Supreme Court threw out the despised 'National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)', an outrageous law shamelessly crafted by then U.S. Secretary of State, Condi Rice and Musharraf the military dictator. It was to facilitate Benazir Bhutto's return to politics and to wipe out all corruption cases against her and her husband, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, the current Pakistani President.

The Supreme Court instructed the Government (headed by the Prime Minister) to re-open  cases withdrawn earlier under NRO, regarding muti-million dollar kick backs received by and lodged in Mr. Zardari's Swiss bank accounts. The Prime Minister refused and this led to the guilty verdict today. The court gave a rather lenient punishment as it could have sent the PM to prison for up to six months, but not wanting to create a precedent of handcuffing a sitting PM, the punishment was only until rising of the court, which was less than a minute, however, the guilty verdict stands.

There is a difference of opinion amongst constitutional lawyers whether PM is disqualified immediately as  Member of National Assembly, thus ineligible to hold the office of PM or a due process has to follow. Chances are, a due process will follow. Once detailed judgment is available from the Supreme Court, Speaker of National Assembly has   to refer it to the Chief Election Commissioner within 30 days. The CEC is the final authority that can unseat a Member of National Assembly. So, Mr. Gilani may have a few more weeks.

There is also the appeal process to a larger bench of the Supreme Court, which the Prime Minister will most certainly go for, however, his chances of being exonerated are rather minimal. This being a matter of national and Constitutional importance, the Chief Justice may even consider forming a full bench, comprising all 19 justices, so as to give finality to the verdict. The larger bench could stay the current verdict or the 30 day clock could run side by side with the appeal process.

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