The post-verdict possibilities -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

The post-verdict possibilities

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: Will the prime minister survive after Thursday when the Supreme Court will give its judgment in the contempt case?

Political and legal experts are unsure of what the outcome will be.

But a senior Supreme Court lawyer, who has decades of experience under his belt, told Dawn that the most likely decision would be the conviction of the prime minister. In fact, a member of a party allied to the PPP also confirmed that there was a lot of uncertainty and nervousness in the government about what the conviction would bring.

However, as conviction in itself would not send the prime minister home, some legal experts expect the court to strike harder and disqualify him.

At the moment, the powers to disqualify a parliamentarian rest with the speaker who decides whether or not to send the case to the Election Commission to proceed with.

This is why one lawyer felt that there were chances that not only would the court convict the prime minister but may also disqualify him there and then by ordering so.

The PPP, insiders say, is preparing for the various outcomes outlined above so that it is not caught by surprise. And its legal and political strategy will depend on what the court decides. But it is weighing its various options.

First, in case of the prime minister’s conviction, there is a laid down procedure for his disqualification from the house, whereby the Speaker of the National Assembly is supposed to take up the case with the Election Commission within 30 days.

In case the speaker doesn’t raise the question with the Election Commission, the case shall deem to have been referred to the Election Commission, which in return will have to give its decision in 90 days.

In this case, the PPP will have time on its side.

Some even feel that the party can react to the court ruling by passing a resolution in favour of the prime minister or against the judiciary.

PPP leaders have been hinting at this in background discussions.

Referring to cases from India where state legislatures and courts have locked horns they have hinted that the parliament could also call the judges to appear before it. There is also another legal option.

A legal expert suggests that if the Supreme Court decides to disqualify the prime minister with immediate effect, the president, under Article 94 of the constitution, can ask him to continue to hold the office until the election of his successor.

This too would allow the PPP to strike back if it wanted to, remarked a constitutional expert.

According to a senior PPP source, the possible scenarios must have come up for discussion during a meeting between the president and National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza held in Karachi on Tuesday.

However, not everyone within the PPP is willing to predict a new round of judiciary-executive clash.

A PPP federal minister said that there was a section of the party that didn’t want to get into a confrontation. Instead the minister said the party would accept whatever the Supreme Court judges would decree on Thursday. In case of conviction, this section of the party feels that the prime minister would immediately resign and the PPP should, with the help of coalition partners, bring in a new prime minister.

This scenario is based on the idea that a clash will only further destabilise matters and that the PPP would be better off if it did not upset the boat too much.

However, others feel that it may not be easy to replace the prime minister and continue as before.

A senior member of the PML-Q says that finding a new prime minister will not be easy, which is why President Zardari will try his best to avoid such a scenario. The numbers are not in his favour.

In the house, the PPP only have 126 MNAs, whereas for election of the new leader of the house the requirement is 172 votes.

The PPP can’t afford at this point and time a whole new bargain with PML-Q (50 seats) and the MQM (25 seats).

The option of going into appeal against the court decision could also be availed by Senator Aitzaz Ahsan. But once again, this would depend upon wording of the court ruling, said a PPP senior leader.

“It will be a tough call for President Zardari who so far has been lucky enough to come out of every crisis unscathed,” he said.

Dawn