A day after being convicted for contempt by the apex court and subsequently warned by the opposition not to enter the National Assembly, the premier made a defiant appearance in the house on Friday.
In a strong-worded speech, not only did Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani rubbish calls to step down, but also challenged the opposition to remove him if they wanted him gone.
“I challenge them to bring a vote of no-confidence against me,” he said, referring to the main opposition party – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has led the calls for him to resign. “I am an elected prime minister, representing 180 million people. How can anybody order an elected prime minister to go home?” said a visibly relaxed prime minister. “Only the speaker, who is the custodian of this house, has the authority to decide.”
He also continued to defend his actions, saying his conscience was clear over not writing the Swiss letter, as ordered by the court.
“I have not committed a crime, I have done nothing wrong but I have protected the Constitution,” he said and urged Speaker Dr Fahmida Mirza to apply her “own mind” and “own legal assessment” on the case.
Addressing the speaker, Gilani said: “I will step down only if you de-notify me. I will accept it if this Parliament disqualifies me.”
The premier was accorded a hero’s welcome when he entered the house. Lawmakers from his Pakistan Peoples Party and allied parties first thumped their desks and then went over to his seat to felicitate him. He reportedly said that it was “the first time I am being felicitated over conviction.”
Gilani is the first sitting prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be convicted by a court of law after he refused to write a letter, in compliance with the apex court orders, to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
However, the prime minister insisted that he respected the judiciary. “I have the highest regard for the judiciary but presidential immunity is provided by the Constitution and is an international practice,” he said.
Jibing at the PML-N, the premier said the opposition didn’t ask even for once to do away with the presidential immunity while the 18th, 19th and 20th amendments were being made to the Constitution.
Leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who said on Thursday that he would not allow Gilani to enter the Parliament House, along with other lawmakers from his party, skipped the premier’s speech. Chaudhry Mehmood Bashir Virk was the only PML-N legislator who listened to Gilani’s speech.
The prime minister directed his criticism at the PML-N, taking the Sharif brothers to task for their ‘irrational political approach’.
“One brother (Nawaz Sharif) says he does not accept the prime minister and the other (Shahbaz Sharif) says he does not accept the president … their entire party, on the other hand, discredits Imran Khan… Does this happen in a democracy?” Gilani asked rhetorically.
The premier claimed that his party had offered Nawaz Sharif the premiership, which he turned down because “he knows it is not that easy to run a government.”
“Nawaz has an inflated ego and cannot take allies along… but we treat them (allies) as a family,” he said.
The premier believed that the Sharifs’ party was out to undermine his government. “I am sure they (the PML-N) will not waste a second to unseat me, if they get a slight indication of success,” he said, adding that had his party been in opposition, he would never have done that.
In his speech, the premier also hit out at the judiciary, though indirectly and cautiously. While referring to Thursday’s victory of a PPP candidate in the Multan by-election, he said “there is another court which has reposed its confidence (in PPP) – but you (the Supreme Court), despite having hanged (PPP’s founding chairperson) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, cannot rule the aspirations of the masses.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.