Opposition wants him to quit: Gilani remains premier, govt tells National Assembly
ISLAMABAD: Shrugging off any damage to him from his conviction by the Supreme Court for contempt, the government told a turbulent National Assembly on Thursday that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani would remain in office, though the opposition demanded that he better resign to prove his innocence.
Asserting that the conviction and a symbolic sentence of “imprisonment till the rising of the court” handed by a seven-judge bench earlier in the day did not disqualify Mr Gilani from holding his office, Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek said: “Today, Prime Minister Gilani is the prime minister of Pakistan and Insha Allah (God-willing) he will remain the prime minister of Pakistan.”
While the prime minister himself stayed away from the house during the entire evening sitting, the law minister repeated his assertion thrice to desk-thumping cheers from the treasury benches during and after a long policy statement about the case, each time prompting “ no, no” and “go Gilani, go” slogans from the lawmakers of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
Mr Naek’s argument-filled speech giving a background to the case instituted by the apex court at its own initiative for Mr Gilani’s refusal to write to Swiss authorities to reopen disputed money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari dating to 1997 as a co-accused with his assassinated wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto also prompted a bristling tirade from opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who accused the government of trying to politicise the court’s ruling and called for the prime minister to resign.
Often, lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and their allies and those of the PML-N engaged in rival slogan-chanting, drawing some admonition and calls to them from Speaker Fehmida Mirza to “maintain the decorum of the house”.
Mr Naek mostly repeated arguments advanced before the Supreme Court for not writing to the Swiss authorities mainly because of a constitutional immunity enjoyed by the president against prosecution at home and abroad while being in office and said the apex court’s latest short order “has not disqualified the prime minister from being parliamentarian”.
And he said that even if a question of disqualification arose in the future after a decision on a possible appeal against the present ruling, it would come before the assembly speaker for a decision whether it merited a reference to be sent to the Election Commission.
“You are not post office, you have to apply your mind, you are the final arbiter,” the minister said, addressing himself to the speaker. “But that process has not yet started,” he noted.
Chaudhry Nisar, who rose several times to speak, advised the government to contest judicial rulings in courts rather than in parliament or on streets, accusing it of making the prime minister a “sacrificial goat” to protect what he called “the real character of the story sitting quietly in the presidency”.
“After today’s decision, it has become very necessary for the prime minister to vindicate his position,” he said, adding that it would be odd for Mr Gilani to remain an MNA and prime minister after the conviction, even if the sentence was for an imprisonment of a few seconds.
“After this decision, the prime minister is a convicted prime minister,” he said, and dared the treasury benches to bring Mr Gilani to his seat in the house “if anybody has any doubt”.
That provoked chants of “ayega, ayega, Prime Minister ayega” (the prime minister will come) from PPP benches against PML-N shouts of “go Gilani, go”.
Chaudhry Nisar said the dignity of the prime minister’s office demanded that he resign from his office and files an appeal to “prove his innocence”, and that if he came to the house after doing that “we all in the opposition will give him a standing ovation”.
During an exchange of allegations between the two sides about their leaders, the law minister warned the PML-N lawmakers to “remain within limits” and “not to force us” to disclose charges against their leaders like their party chief Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. “Let us respect each other,” the minister said.
Despite all the acrimony, the sitting ended on a note of peace between the rivals with an agreement for a joint business advisory committee to meet on Friday morning to decide about the day’s business before the house sitting starts at 11am.