PM’s job on the line
ISLAMABAD: A day before appearing in the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani cleared the air about his legal status in the event of his conviction in the contempt of court case, and said he would automatically lose his job.
When asked in an interview with Al Jazeera television if he would resign for the sake of the president, the prime minister said if convicted he would automatically lose the office, so there would be no need for him to resign.
“There’s no need to step down. If I’m convicted, then I’m not supposed to be a member of parliament.”
The prime minister’s secretariat issued excerpts of the interview.
Replying to questions about not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in accordance with the Supreme Court’s NRO judgment, he said charges against the president were “politically motivated” and he had immunity as head of state.
After the rejection on Feb 10 of Prime Minister Gilani’s intra-court appeal against the court’s decision to frame contempt charges, a new debate had started whether he could keep his job in case of conviction.
He will appear before a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Monday to be formally charged for not implementing the NRO judgment. After striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2009 the court had asked the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening money laundering cases against the president.
Legal experts differ on likely repercussions of the case for the prime minister.
Salman Raja, a Supreme Court lawyer, said if charges against the prime minister were proved the court could sentence him to up to six months of imprisonment.
He said disqualification of a member of parliament was a different member. Article 63(g) of the Constitution says a member of parliament can be disqualified if he is found guilty of ridiculing the judiciary. While the prime minister has been saying from day one he fully respects the judiciary, but has been following the Constitution which provides complete immunity to a sitting president against criminal prosecution.
The lawyer said there was a detailed procedure under which an application should be moved with the speaker’s office for disqualification. The speaker would take a decision on the application within 30 days.
On agreeing with the argument that the member should be disqualified, the speaker would file a reference with the Election Commission which would have 90 days to decide the matter, Mr Raja said. The affected member then has the right to appeal.
Therefore, Mr Raja was of the view, nothing would happen to the prime minister because it was a lengthy process and the government had already hinted that it wanted to hold early elections.
Barrister Zafarullah Khan, another lawyer, said the Supreme Court would have to mention in its ruling that because of committing contempt the prime minister stood disqualified from holding the office. He said the apex court was likely to address every facet of the high-profile case in its judgment. In the
event of conviction, he said, even a presidential pardon wouldn’t be of any help to the prime minister.
PPP sources said the party’s leaders were not worried about the outcome of the case. “If the Supreme Court sends the prime minister to jail, the PPP will have a perfect poster for next elections showing him behind bars.”
Addressing a rally near Faisalabad, Prime Minister Gilani alluded to his possible conviction and said the time had come for leaders, instead of workers, to render sacrifice.
According to some analysts, the court’s decision would have more political than legal repercussions because people have already started discussing verdicts in which military dictators have been favoured vis-a-vis politicians.