Prime Minister Gilani’s firm but polite no
By Ahmad Hassan
ISLAMABAD: Giving voice to his government’s stand on the Supreme Court directive for a written assurance that the government will not withdraw the executive order restoring the judiciary, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in his televised address to the nation on Sunday night said: “When the prime minister says something, whether it is verbally or in writing, it ought to be respected by everyone.”
He was referring to his verbal assurance made on Thursday night in response to media reports that the government was planning to withdraw the order. He said he had denied the reports categorically.
By doing so, the prime minister simply stated the policy of his government, which was becoming clear to observers since the morning of Oct 15 when the apex court asked for the written assurance from the prime minister — the silence and lack of action that emanated from the Prime Minister’s House on that day indicated that the PPP was about to dig in its heels on the issue and not capitulate by handing over anything in writing.
Gilani confirmed this in his speech on Sunday night.
That it was a well thought out response was evident from the rationale that the prime minister then presented. Explaining the central role and the prestige of the prime minister’s office, he stated: “If he (the prime minister) refutes a news item today, the prestige of the office demands that the refutation is accepted on all forums; if a false report spread is preferred on what the prime minister says, it is tantamount to insulting the office of prime minister.”
He then added more weight to his argument by reminding his listeners of other decisive verbal orders he had given. “When the prime minister verbally ordered the release of judges as soon as the PPP government took over, no one dared to keep them under detention and later on when he announced the reinstatement of the honourable judges it was again implemented.”
But despite his self-assurance, which was helped by the fact that he stuck to the written speech, the setting did give away the government’s uncertainty as to what Monday may hold for it. As he read out his 25-minute speech, the prime minister was flanked by two provincial chief ministers — Balochistan’s Nawab Aslam Raeesani and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Amir Haider Khan Hoti — and the senior ministers of Punjab and Sindh — Raja Riaz and Pir Mazharul Haq — along with AJK Prime Minister Sardar Atique Ahmad Khan and Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah. He himself, in his speech, called the occasion historic for this reason.
For observers, this was a silent message of the government’s moral and democratic strength. Or for those looking for a slightly more aggressive message, the line-up of the provincial representatives was a reminder of the federal government’s widespread support to counter the whispers that an in-house change of the prime minister or of the ruling party is a possibility. As one analyst put it, “the government was saying between the lines that if it was sent home, it would not be alone”.
However, this is not to say that the prime minister declared war. He spent a significant part of his speech reaching out to the judiciary. Talking in the most general terms of the need for the government and the judiciary to provide legal, social and economic justice to the people, he offered: “For this purpose, I am ready to sit with the honourable judges and I am even ready to set up a body for this purpose.”
It is noteworthy that for a speech that was clearly intended at soothing the frayed tempers in the judiciary, the prime minister did not once refer to the proceedings of the court on Friday morning and the directives of the Supreme Court. Instead he spoke of the media reports by saying that he had “ordered an inquiry into this (false) report so that the nation should know who was behind the attempt to ambush the relations between judiciary and the government”.
At the same time, he also explained his own earlier controversial speech that he had made in parliament in the first half of the year in which he had claimed that the executive order restoring the judiciary could be taken back as it had not been ratified by parliament. He said that this was simply the “opinion” of “people” and “not my opinion”.
Prime Minister Gilani also held forth for quite some time on his government’s policy of reconciliation and the virtues of democracy, which he argued meant that “the judiciary, administration, legislature and media and other institutions deserved respect”, adding later that “in our presence” there was no chance of a confrontation between state institutions.
A large part of the speech dealt with a chunk of Pakistan’s history and of the current government’s various achievements and further challenges ranging from militancy to the floods to inflation to reform of the eight public sector organisations to Kashmir and the access to EU markets. Perhaps the intent was to prove that the speech was not just a knee-jerk reaction to the judicial order of Friday but a more general address on the state of the nation. Unfortunately, it did not convince anyone in this regard; the reaction as the speech ended focused on his refusal to hand over anything in writing.
However, what is less clear is how well the speech may have gone down with 17 daytime inhabitants of Constitution Avenue who will be getting together first thing Monday morning to frame their response to the prime minister’s polite but firm refusal for a written guarantee. No wonder then that the drama, speculations and the media interest, which on Sunday night was focused on the prime minister’s house, will engulf the Supreme Court building for the first half of Monday.