The supreme court (SC) of Pakistan on Tuesday disqualified the country’s prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani from office wef April 26.
There is no imminent threat to the government as the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) enjoys a majority in parliament.
Pakistan, however, could be heading for a constitutional crisis if the government decides not to accept the verdict.
Gilani had maintained that Zardari, as Pakistan’s president, enjoyed immunity from prosecution and so, had refused to reopen several corruption cases against him as directed by the SC. He had been found guilty of contempt on April 26 this year.
Speaker of the National Assembly Fehmida Mirza had earlier ruled that the prime minister could not be disqualified only because he had been convicted for contempt of the SC."The court’s verdict is a challenge to parliament. The judgment will be placed before parliament and the government will then decide what to do," said Fawad Chaudhry, special assistant to the PM.
PPP’s central executive committee is meeting coalition partners and a decision is likely late on Tuesday night. If, as expected, the PPP and its partners decide not to challenge the court’s judgment, they will have to build a consensus around a new PM.
Till that time, the president will run the government.
But even if another PM takes office, he/she will face the same problems that Gilani did for defying the SC’s orders to prosecute Zardari and can be held in contempt if he/she decides not to reopen the money laundering cases against the president. In that case, the crisis will deepen.
There are other nagging questions. What if the PPP's alliance is unable to muster the votes to elect a new PM? In that case, the president will have to order fresh elections within three months.
Renowned journalist and analyst Najam Sethi felt the SC’s decision was not unexpected. “It was expected for two reasons. One, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif petitioned the courts. So, it was expected that their petitions would be received sympathetically by the court, just like all their other petitions before the SC in the past. Secondly, the courts have been openly gunning for PM Gilani for quite some time.
The PM knew he would probably be disqualified and had said on several occasions that he would go home if the SC disqualified him. The writing was on the wall.”
The author is a Lahore-based journalist