Yousaf Raza Gilani’s fate
While in Lahore the other day to inaugurate the first Business Express train and abolishing the tollgate at the old Ravi bridge, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reiterated certain themes he has been emphasising in recent days. Without explicating his charge in detail, the PM once again hinted at a conspiracy afoot to somehow abort the upcoming Senate elections in March, elections that seem set to give the PPP-led coalition a safe majority in the upper house. Dismissing such efforts, the PM once again categorically stated that the Senate elections would go ahead as per schedule, and all those interested in early elections should talk to the government after the Budget. On the contempt case against him in the Supreme Court (SC), the PM repeated his respect for the courts and said he would wholeheartedly accept whatever decision the court handed down.
In case anyone is inclined to treat the talk of a conspiracy as self-serving, it would be useful to reflect on two new writs moved in the SC against the by-elections scheduled for February 25 and the Senate elections expected on March 2. The former petition is a follow up by Imran Khan’s PTI asking the SC to stop the Election Commission from holding the by-elections on the basis of flawed voters’ lists. The latter, however, moved by a television anchor, pleads for cancellation of the Senate elections on the grounds that about 70 parliamentarians are currently charged with possessing fake degrees, on the basis of which they were elected, and are involved in proceedings to determine their fate as elected representatives. Further, the second petition argues that 29 MNAs and MPAs had been elected in by-elections based on flawed voters’ lists. Thus some 100 parliamentarians, according to the petitioner, are not eligible to vote in the Senate elections and were they to be allowed to do so, an unrepresentative, invalidly elected upper house would be the result. Now one may not be enamoured of conspiracy theories, but the timing of these petitions does give rise to suspicions and speculations about what is going on.
While the fate of these petitions remains to be determined by the court, a significant date, February 13, is looming. That is the day the PM has been summoned before the seven-member bench of the SC hearing the contempt case against the PM for not obeying the court’s order in the NRO judgment to write a letter to the Swiss judicial authorities asking them to reopen the Cotecna case against President Asif Ali Zardari. Neither the PM nor his redoubtable counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, got much purchase at the last hearing from the bench on the argument that Article 248 debars the PM from following the court’s order as it provides immunity to a sitting president from any criminal proceedings. The honourable bench has not addressed that question in its February 3 order, which concludes that prima facie a case of contempt lies against the PM and charges accordingly will be framed at the February 13 hearing in the PM’s presence. Legal experts are debating the possible scenarios that may emerge on February 13, including the worst-case possibility that the PM may be convicted, sentenced, and disqualified. Were this to come to pass, legal remedies may lie with the PM, but even if those are not conceded by the court, the worst-case scenario sees the PM being affected, but not necessarily the government as a whole. As long as the sitting government enjoys a majority in parliament, the chief executive, if disqualified, can be replaced by another member of the PPP. That would, again in the worst-case scenario, leave the political situation unaffected materially, and the PPP and its allies could still soldier on till the general elections. Of course the effect of any such outcome on the politics of the country is another matter, to which one can only return if and when it presents itself.