With the exception of a handful, an overwhelming majority of legal experts contend that the countdown of the premier’s possible disqualification as Member of the National Assembly would start after the expiry of the 30-day period given for filing of an appeal against the Supreme Court’s verdict.
The detailed verdict issued on Tuesday did not clarify the ambiguity regarding the fate of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani — some experts believe that it has added to the confusion which could lead to another legal battle.
The government feels Gilani’s disqualification is not an option given that neither the conviction falls under the case of moral turpitude which have a minimum of two years conviction, nor was the question of immunity addressed fully.
Most of the legal experts agree that Gilani has the right to file an appeal against his conviction within a 30-day period.
If an appeal is filed, the countdown period will expand further till the decision of such an appeal. If the appeal is rejected, the speaker of the National Assembly will have 30 days to send a reference to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for de-seating the premier within 90 days.
The detailed judgment, according to legal and constitutional experts did not give any new specific direction except explaining the short order issued on April 26.
However some legal experts think that the timeframe for the speaker to send the reference to the ECP had started the day the short order was issued. They were of the view that since it is a Supreme Court order, the speaker cannot overrule it.
Constitutional lawyer Farogh Naseem said: “There is nothing new in the detailed judgment, except it is a longer order. It is clear that the PM is a convict but there is no clear directive that he is disqualified. It can be a matter of morality but legally he is not disqualified till the completion of the legal process.”
Supreme Court lawyer Hamid Khan was also of the view that the legal process would have to be completed before disqualifying Gilani as an MNA and subsequently as a prime minister. However, according to him the timeframe for the speaker to send the reference to the ECP had started the day the short order was issued. He said in case an appeal is filed, it will be up to the court to suspend the disqualification process.
According to Supreme Court Bar Association President Yaseen Azad, the time period leading to the disqualification has started after issuance of the detailed verdict. In case the government goes for an appeal, this time will remain suspended till the decision of the appeal is made. “If the appeal is rejected, the timeframe will resume from the day of the rejection of the appeal. The government has 30 days to appeal,” he said.
Former law minister Khalid Ranja claimed that the court has thrown the ball in the direction of parliament because if the apex court wanted, it could have directly declared Gilani disqualified. “Legally speaking we have to wait till the finalisation of the appeal. Filing of an appeal is a matter of basic rights. The court could have clearly stated that Gilani is disqualified”.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.
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