As predicted, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has gone to the National Assembly and challenged the opposition to oust him through a no-confidence vote. He could do this because the short order by the Supreme Court that sentenced him till its rising — for contempt — was not clearly expressive of the honourable Court’s intent. There was a reference in it to “mitigating” factors, but no lexical expert in the world can unravel the sentence that contains it. Hence the confusion and the bickering till the Court delivers the full judgment.
The PML-N jumped the gun despite commentaries in the media generally accepting the next step in the process that will unfold in the National Assembly and the Election Commission of Pakistan. It told the PM he was no longer prime minister and declared that it will try to stop him from entering the National Assembly because he had lost its membership as an MNA. Outside the National Assembly, the country was divided: there were crowds in the streets celebrating and there were rallies condemning the ‘one-sided’ justice in the country. Clearly, once politicised, justice itself is in jeopardy.
Should the PM resign as prime ministers do elsewhere in the world? The tradition in Pakistan is not to resign no matter how reductive of honour the allegation is. The TV channels counted the number of highly-placed people in public office who should have resigned after scandals emerged in their domain of functions, but did not. The PML-N thinks that the PM should break the tradition and go away for five years because that is what is indicated in Article 63 to which the short order has referred. One cannot think how this stance can persist. After all, Mr Gilani is still entitled to an appeal at the Court.
Acting Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan believes he needs the Supreme Court to provide him the detailed judgment convicting Mr Gilani before the Commission decides what it has to do next and determine whether the speaker of the National Assembly has a role to play in the matter. Once again, the professional opinion is divided. Therefore, the opposition would be well-advised to show restraint till the full judgment is promulgated. It would be embarrassing if the PML-N is deployed aggressively in its long march and the judgment arrives merely to endorse it.
Inside the House, the coalition partners are either following a wait-and-see policy, or are determined to stay behind the PM. In Sindh, the assembly has already decided that the verdict is unfair, just as the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf seem to have prejudged the matter without knowing the clear intent of the Court.
Maybe the Court should have taken pains to either write the full judgment, or should have written the short order more clearly. One says this because rumours of a ‘third option’ have been floating for some time: that after the ensuing of a post-trial chaos, the powers that be will put the brakes on the present political order and hand the country over to an interim government of ‘experts’ who will undertake to set things right in quick time. If the two big parties tilt once again into the mutually damaging vendetta reminiscent of the 1990s — after which both went into a decade of political eclipse — the country will become too destabilised to be managed under any democratic dispensation.
Of course, one option for the PML-N would be to do nothing tangibly and wait for the weight of swelling public opinion to bring down Mr Gilani. But the PML-N may fear that by abiding by this more peaceful course of action, the PPP’s stay in power may be prolonged through serial contempts and dismissals, thereby, allowing more ground to be lost to Imran Khan’s fast growing public clout. Somewhere along the line, our politicians must think of the survival of the country instead of obsessing about ruling it.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.