The Supreme Court has spoken and the government does not like what it has heard. That is obvious and to be expected. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has been found guilty of the rather serious charge of wilfully flouting the orders of the Court, which the honourable judges have found to be a substantial offence, one that brings into disrepute the dignity and the esteem of the Court.
Regardless of the myriad interpretations of the law and the finer points of the Constitution that are being used to justify the prime minister’s continuation in office, the fact remains that he is now a convict. No amount of influence-peddling and chest-thumping will change this rather sad fact. Besides tainting his name, and providing grounds for putting a full stop to his active political career, the conviction has raised question marks about Mr Gilani’s ability to conduct himself as the chief executive and the leader of the house.
The Court had the option of awarding the prime minister maximum punishment, but that itself would have only provided more fire to the hyper critics of the judiciary and reinforced their opinion that it has a clear bias against the PPP. Instead, the minimum sentence was chosen — till the rising of the Court — even though the substance of the verdict has the same effect as a more stringent punishment would have highlighted.
That is smart handling of a delicate issue. However, a politically divided environment has not registered this nuanced side of the verdict. As the news of the prime minister’s conviction was beamed, prearranged protest meetings were held in already decided pockets. Effigies of the judges were burnt in Multan. In Sindh, the reaction was similar.
This is a sign of things to come. The PPP has made up its mind that it will take the battle with the judiciary to the next level, regardless of the consequences. The tradition of delaying implementation of judicial verdicts or forever finding ways to wriggle out of the responsibility of preserving the letter and spirit of these decisions now looks set to be pursued directly by the prime minister himself under the over-arching umbrella of support provided by President Asif Ali Zardari.
There is little reason to be hopeful that in the coming days the judiciary’s esteem will be factored in the political assessments of the performance and conduct of the judges. The persons and the office of the judges will be put through the shredder in a tragic re-enactment of the days of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf when pouring scorn on the judges and foul mouthing them in public was the centrepiece of a deliberate strategy.
This will further fracture an already shaken system, whose one pillar, the executive, is now pitted against the other, the judiciary. For the opposition, primarily the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, this means decision time. Both these parties have promised, but delayed, direct action against the government for quite some time. For one reason or the other, they have trundled along with a government that they have criticised bitterly but have not really taken up arms against. It would be difficult to postpone that action anymore, especially if the government continues on the path of wilful defiance and deliberate ridicule of the judges that they think are manifestly prejudiced against them.
That could mean the final showdown: with elections just around the corner and parties looking for causes to champion, this might turn out to be a battle that may be far more consequential than most of us are able to appreciate at the moment. Of course, this shaken system of ours does not have to go through these new convulsions if the government gulps down this bitter pill of the prime minister’s conviction and winds down from the path of a head-on collision. There is nothing indispensable about the prime minister, especially if the party in power and its allies still command the numbers in the house to get another man in. However, that is the rational course of action, which has been the path least taken by those at the helm of affairs.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2012.