Two days before the possible expiry of a 30-day deadline to decide on the fate of the prime minister, the National Assembly speaker dismissed bids to disqualify Yousaf Raza Gilani following his conviction by the Supreme Court in a contempt case last month.
“No question of disqualification of Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani from being a member arises under clause (2) of Article 63 of the Constitution,” Dr Fehmida Mirza, who is also a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, said in her five-page ruling released on Thursday.
The speaker refused to send a reference against the premier to the Election Commission, and dismissed a court order and a subsequent petition that sought his disqualification.
“I am of the view that the charges against Yousaf Raza Gilani are not relatable to the grounds mentioned in paragraph (g) or (h) of clause (1) of Article 63. The letters of the Assistant Registrar (IMP) for Registrar of the Supreme Court stands answered accordingly. Furthermore, the petition of Maulvi Iqbal Haider, Advocate being without any merit, is not maintainable and accordingly rejected,” the ruling stated.
The decision had already triggered a fresh constitutional and legal debate in the country, whereby the ruling PPP is set to stand firm in its stance that parliament is the supreme institution and this ruling cannot be challenged at any other forum.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Gilani called the speaker’s decision a “victory for democracy”.
“Today, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, democracy has won and the speaker ruled in my favour,” he told a ceremony in Islamabad.
However, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, opposition leader in the National Assembly from the main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-N, rejected the decision and told reporters that the speaker “has not done justice”.
On April 26, a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Gilani on contempt of court charges over his refusal to write a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to open graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. Following the short order, a detailed verdict was issued on May 8. The court, through official channels, conveyed both orders to the NA speaker.
Advocate Maulvi Iqbal Haider also moved an application to the speaker’s office pleading that the case be sent to the ECP.
Before touching on the legal question of the premier’s disqualification on Thursday, the speaker indirectly castigated the Supreme Court, not only for the contents of the references, but also for sending them through a deputy registrar, calling it “in bad taste” and “against parliamentary norms and traditions”.
Mirza substantiates decision
Since there was no clear-cut direction on whether the premier’s conviction entailed disqualification or not, legal experts had divergent views.
Some constitutional experts were of opinion that since the decision came from the highest court, the speaker had no other option but to refer the matter to the ECP, which, under the law, takes decisions to de-seat any elected member.
However, the government contested that the speaker can take an independent decision to accept or reject any reference filed against a member of the National Assembly before forwarding it to the election authority. To substantiate her decision, the speaker gave references from the past to establish the fact that she was empowered to take a final decision.
She referred to the case of Kanwar Intizar Muhammad Khan VS Federation of Pakistan 1995, in which it was established that while examining a reference under Article 63 (2), the speaker is not supposed to act merely as a post office and is not bound to forward it to the Chief Election Commissioner.
She also quoted a precedent from the last assembly, during which then NA speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain rejected the government’s objection against the opposition’s nomination of Javed Hashmi to contest for the slot of leader of House.
Hashmi, according to the claim of the treasury benches, was convicted by a lower court on charges of defaming the armed forces; however, the speaker rejected the plea and let him contest the elections. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.