Pak SC disqualifies Gilani; new PM expected today

Lawyers chant slogans in favour of a decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan outside the court building in Islamabad on Tuesday. (UNI)
Lawyers chant slogans in favour of a decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan outside the court building in Islamabad on Tuesday. (UNI)

ISLAMABAD, June 19: In a dramatic turn of events, Pakistan Supreme Court today disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and ruled that he “ceased” to be in office since April 26 when it convicted and sentenced him for contempt.
A shocked ruling-PPP immediately accepted the verdict and decided to replace the 60-year-old Gilani, who has been the Prime Minister since March 2008.
PPP Parliamentary Party is expected to meet tomorrow to decide on his replacement and the names of federal ministers Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Khursheed Shah are doing the rounds for the post.
President Asif Ali Zardari has cancelled his two-day visit from tomorrow to Russia to attend a meeting of International Economic Forum following the political upheaval that has hit the country.
“Yousuf Raza Gilani has become disqualified from being Member of Parliament,” a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary said in its short order nearly two months after he was convicted for contempt for refusing to ask Switzerland to reopen multi-million dollar graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
“Since no appeal was filed against this (April 26) judgment, the conviction has attained finality. Therefore, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has become disqualified from being a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)… And from the date and time of pronouncement of the judgment of this Court dated 26.04.2012 with all consequences,” the Court said.
It added, “He (Gilani) has also ceased to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan with effect from the said date and the office of the Prime Minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly”.
In the order, which capped nearly 30 months of bitter feud between the judiciary and the Government, the Court also directed the Election Commission to issue a notification stating that Gilani was no longer a Member of Parliament.
It also said President of Pakistan is required to take necessary steps under the Constitution to ensure continuation of the democratic process through Parliamentary system of Government in the country.
It is not clear how the Government will deal with the decisions that have been taken by the Prime Minister or his cabinet since April 26.
Today’s verdict came in response to several petitions that had challenged National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza’s decision not to disqualify Gilani following his conviction.
Immediately after the verdict, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party went into huddle to review the situation.
A meeting of the central leadership of the PPP, jointly chaired by President Zardari and his son, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, decided to accept the apex court’s ruling against Gilani, party sources said.
The central leadership decided to convene separate meetings of the PPP’s Parliamentary party and the members of the ruling coalition to choose a leader to replace Gilani, the sources said.
The apex court’s ruling had been expected in political circles for some time but the suprising element, however, was the PPP quickly accepting the verdict.
During the hearing of the petitions yesterday, the Chief Justice had questioned whether a convicted person could continue representing the 180 million people of Pakistan.
The judiciary and the Government have been engaged in a standoff since December 2009, when the apex court annulled a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Parvez Musharraf that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.
Since then, the judiciary has been pressuring the Government to reopen the corruption cases against the President.
The Government refused to act, saying the President enjoyed immunity from prosecution in Pakistan and abroad.
Matters reached a head when the apex court charged Gilani with contempt for refusing to act on its orders earlier this year.
Gilani was convicted and given a symbolic sentence of less than a minute on April 26.
Gilani refused to resign even though the apex court had said at the time that his conviction could lead to his disqualification.
The Speaker last month ruled out the disqualification of Gilani following his conviction, saying he had not been charged with acting in a manner prejudicial to the integrity or independence of the judiciary.
Earlier in the day, the Chief Justice questioned whether the Speaker could scrutinise the judgment of a seven-judge bench of the apex court.
However, the crusading Chief Justice has come under a cloud following real estate tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain’s acknowledgment that he paid Rs 342.5 million to the top Judge’s son Arsalan Iftikhar to influence cases in the apex court.
Despite enjoying the support of lawyers across the country, the Chief Justice has been accused by legal experts of acting in a biased manner against the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and especially President Zardari.
The apex court’s disqualification will add to the problems of the PPP-led Government, which is grappling with an economic meltdown and crippling power outages across the country that have triggered violent protests.
The Government is also facing a spike in militant activities in the northwestern tribal belt and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. (PTI)