Posted On Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 03:45:43 AM
|Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza
Gilani was awarded a mirco sentence of 30 seconds by the Supreme Court
The current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani is the longest serving PM in its history. He has served for almost four years, in a government led by the Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) in a coalition with four other partners.
He unfortunately also holds the distinction of being the only PM who has been convicted by the Supreme Court. This has led to a constitutional crisis. According to section 63 of their constitution, a convicted Parliamentarian cannot even continue to be in the House, let alone hold high office. He must be disqualified. The tricky detail is that the PM was convicted for a crime of contempt of court, and he also served a micro sentence of 30 seconds. No, he was not jailed for 30 seconds, but simply had to stand in court.
This was a symbolic punishment. So he is now a convicted and sentenced Pakistani. Because of this he must be expelled from Parliament. But the Cabinet, the government and its legal counsel refuse to buy this interpretation.
They all say that the PM has not committed any crime, because contempt of court is not a crime in Pakistan. Besides they say that the Supreme Court has passed a verdict “beyond the scope” of the alleged charges framed against the PM. Hence supporters of PM Yousuf Gilani are interpreting the action of the court as merely observations, and not a sentence.
All this may sound like legal nit picking. But the fact is that the judiciary in Pakistan had the guts to summon the Prime Minister, and pass a stricture. This is also the same PM who had strongly supported the Supreme Court, when he reinstated the suspended Chief Justice in March 2009. That re-instatement was culmination of agitation by lawyers, against unlawful suspension of the Chief Justice, by the then President Pervez Musharraf.
The good deed of the PM in reinstating the Chief Justice did not prevent the same court and the same Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in convicting him. This is demonstration that justice is above quid pro quo. And against Musharraf himself, there is a pending arrest warrant issued by a court in February 2011, for his alleged involvement in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf also earned the ire of the judiciary and entire legal fraternity when he suspended Justice Chaudhry in 2007, which led to mass street protests by lawyers.
All this may appear like a case of unhealthy confrontation between the judiciary and the executive branch, but it actually indirectly points to the robustness of the Pakistani judiciary. An independent and strong judiciary is essential for the economy’s and society’s well-being. Of course law and order is far greater in scope, than merely interpreting the constitution or enforcing contracts. But the fact that politicians are treated as not “above the law” is an encouraging sign of the times in Pakistan.
The country has been plagued by many natural and manmade disasters over the past decade. Sectarian killings and violence, inability to rein religious fundamentalists, high inflation, deficits and debts, have added to woes like countrywide floods and crop destruction. Yet the economic news has been getting better. Healthy growth in exports, a booming stock market, a liberal investment regime for foreigners, and increasing trade ties with India are all pointing to a brighter outlook. As Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh wrote recently “a new Pakistan is emerging” and “change that is sweeping Pakistan has profound economic and political consequences”.
The country will for the first time see a democratically elected government complete a full five-year term. The strengthening of grassroots democracy had begun even during the dictatorship period of Musharraf. But the biggest silver lining for Pakistan is surely its judiciary, which seems to be robust and fearlessly independent.
• Great idea
While suggesting ways to modernise and upgrade Mumbai’s ailing railway system in his column ‘Unbearable dignity of train travel’ (PM, April 21), Ajit Ranade has come up with a brilliant idea of building offices atop railway stations. The Maximum City has nearly exhausted its land resources and there’s no space for new projects.
Therefore an elite panel can be formed to find out ways, like the one given by Ranade, to utilise and modify the existing infrastructure to meet the ever-growing demands and ease the burden on local transport.
- Shailesh Nair