ISLAMABAD: After becoming Pakistan’s first sitting prime minister to be convicted, Yousaf Raza Gilani chaired an emergency meeting of the federal cabinet, which threw its weight behind the embattled premier.
The cabinet asked the prime minister not to resign and wait for the court’s detailed verdict. It asserted that the case was of political nature and there was no justification for the premier to resign on moral grounds.
His counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, also held a press conference after the meeting, in which he announced that they will be appealing against the decision.
The cabinet meeting
The purpose of the meeting was to review the repercussions of the SC’s verdict declaring Gilani guilty of contempt of court.
“I was expecting a better decision from the judiciary,” asserted the premier.
“I was expecting real justice from the courts but they denied it (to me),” sources quoted the premier as telling the cabinet. The meeting which reposed full confidence in the leadership of the prime minister was attended on special invitation by the chief ministers of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), the prime minister of Azad Jammu & Kashmir as well as the governors of K-P and Punjab.
However, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif did not attend the meeting which was later briefed by Federal Law Minister Farooq Naek and Attorney General Irfan Qadir regarding the post-verdict scenario and the strategy which is going to be adopted by the government to file an appeal.
Sources revealed that a detailed post-verdict strategy was discussed and it was resolved that the decision to appeal would be made by the premier’s legal experts and in consultation with the coalition partners.
Sources said that Gilani told the meeting that it was the prerogative of the Speaker of the National Assembly to decide the fate of the members of the house. He also lauded the overwhelming support expressed by Pakistan People Party’s coalition partners.
Aitzaz news conference
Prime Minister Gilani will appeal against his conviction for refusing to reopen corruption investigations into the country’s president, his lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan said.
“I will file the appeal after receiving the detailed order of the court,” said Aitzaz at a news conference held in Islamabad after the conclusion of special cabinet meeting summoned by Gilani.
One of the charges in the summary judgment issued by seven judges at the Supreme Court earlier on Thursday was not mentioned when Gilani was indicted in February, charged Aitzaz, who has been fighting Gilani’s case for over two months.
“I will raise this in my appeal. The appeal will go before a larger bench of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Aitzaz told the press conference that even though the premier had been charged for scandalising the court through a verbally conveyed verdict by the apex court judges, the specific charge had not been included in the chargesheet.
“The implications are that if he is alleged to have scandalised the court – for which he was never charged – he can be disqualified. The prime minister can be disqualified as a member of the National Assembly… but this is not the charge,” Aitzaz said, adding that the PM was not convicted according to charges mentioned in the chargesheet.
Aitzaz said that the Supreme Court’s order on Thursday had condemned his client for judicial and criminal contempt, adding that these new charges warranted a new trial.
“The charge was of disregarding the court’s orders, but the prime minister was sentenced for scandalising the court,” he said, adding that his client was framed for one charge but was punished for the other two.
He went on to add that he would seek suspension of the verdict, adding that the court had given them 30 days to file an appeal.
Aitzaz also highlighted how the court had mentioned the premier’s Bahawalpur address, in which he had allegedly defamed the court, despite the fact that the court had already indicted him prior to the incident on February 13.
“The clock stopped there … anything stated by the prime minister thereafter was not relevant to the trial. If the prime minister had impeached any law then a fresh new trial was called for.”
Aitzaz also questioned the court’s decision to read out the decision, saying the court had no right to do so as the decision is always handed over in its written form to the accused.
Furthermore, he said that the prime minister is not disqualified until the Speaker of the National Assembly decides takes up the case with the Election Commission within 30 days.
“According to the Constitution, there is no automatic and immediate disqualification.”
Respect for the judiciary
Newly appointed Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also accompanied Aitzaz during the press conference. He addressed some of the pressing issues faced by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) since the verdict had been announced.
“The party has reservations on the judgment but we will not follow the path of confrontation with the judiciary as we believe in facing our cases in the court of law,” said Kaira, adding that the PPP had always paid respect to the judiciary and would continue to do the same.
When asked about Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif’s demands for Gilani to quit at once and calls for an election, Kaira responded saying that the PPP would return to the people at the right time.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2012.