The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has held exhaustive discussions on the possible outcomes and how exactly they will deal with each scenario emerging in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in the contempt case against the prime minister.
There is one similarity between all its strategies, sources told The Express Tribune: Yousaf Raza Gilani will remain prime minister for at least five more months – come what may.
According to sources, the top leadership of the PPP has been briefed by the prime minister’s legal team.
If convicted, the premier may be given up to a six-month sentence, but may also be sentenced “till the rise of the court” – that is, no actual jail time, the legal team told the PPP leadership.
Whatever the sentence may be, Prime Minster Gilani will not seek pardon from President Asif Ali Zardari – who can, under Article 45, can waive a sentence.
Even in a situation whereby the sentence is six months, the interior minister will immediately declare the Prime Minister House a sub-jail – and Gilani will go directly there.
Indeed, according to sources, it isn’t the sentencing that worries the PPP – it is his status as prime minister following a conviction.
Fawad Chaudhry, while talking with The Express Tribune, said that, constitutionally, the prime minister can be removed from his office in three ways: resignation, a vote of no confidence or if he no longer remains an MNA.
For starters, sources said, PPP will move under Article 94 to keep Gilani in office. Article 94 states: “The president may ask the prime minister to hold office until his successor enters upon the office of prime minister.”
As for his status as a member of the National Assembly (MNA), upon which his premiership is obviously contingent, the legal team’s briefings maintain that Gilani’s actual disqualification will be handled under Article 63(1) h, which states that a member can be disqualified if “he has been, on conviction for any offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.” Or even 63(1)g which states that an MNA can be disqualified if, “he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan…”
The disqualification, according to most analyses, will be in the hands of the Speaker of the National Assembly. The speaker will have to move a reference to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seeking Gilani’s disqualification as an MNA. The speaker can hold the reference for up to 30 days before it is automatically sent to the ECP. The ECP then has up to 90 days to finalise the disqualification.
That’s about four months of a process.
In addition, according to Chaudhry, if Gilani is convicted, he has right of appeal and, till the decision, the president may ask him to continue his office. He said that, if the appeal is rejected, then the speaker will move forward Gilani’s reference of disqualification to ECP.
However, there is yet another school of thought on this matter, which was also included in the briefings. This theory holds that a sentencing, of any length, would carry an inbuilt disqualification – and there would be no procedural requirements for the disqualification.
Advocate Azhar Saddique says that under unusual circumstances such as in a contempt case, Gilani’s disqualification would be automatic under article 63(1)g. He says that Gilani would leave the court as an MNA not as prime minister – and the process will only be to determine his future as an MNA.
If Gilani is convicted, counsels would go for a direct appeal against the verdict within 30 days and would try to get a stay order against Giani’s sentence. If they fail, that’s when the president will step in with Article 94.
If push comes to shove and someone challenges the president’s move to ask Gilani to stay on as prime minister, or if the court continues to press the government on the matter, there is another plan.
According to sources, the PPP-led coalition would in all probability nominate Federal Minister for Petroleum Senator Dr Asim Hussain as prime minister as a last resort. Since Hussain is a senator, and the prime minister cannot come from the Senate, he will need to be elected on an MNA seat. In this process, a Sindh-based MNA would be asked to resign and make way for Hussain, who would then contest the vacant seat.
This entire process would also take months.
And when that time is about to expire, Gilani will announce a caretaker setup, sources said.
In the meantime, the PPP will make hay.
Sources said that waves of PPP workers would accompany the prime minister to the court on Thursday. Following a conviction, they said that PPP would organise public gatherings in south Punjab, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir where court’s ruling would be condemned.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2012.