Trouble Brewing In Pakistan As Prime Minister Refuses To Quit Despite Supreme Court Ruling

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has refused to step down following his conviction for contempt of the country’s Supreme Court, CNN reports.Gilani has claimed that only Parliament and the speaker of the National Assembly had the authority to remove him, a process that could take months. He also rejected calls from opposition leaders for his resignation. “If they have the courage, they should bring a vote of no confidence against me,” he said in parliament. “It cannot be that an elected chosen representative, a prime minister unanimously elected by 180 million people, is told to just go home.

The outcome is a result of a long-fought case between the judiciary and the civil government, and its implications reach not only the credibility of the government, but also speak to the fragility of the democratic system and the concept of a civilian government in Pakistan.

The case revolves around accusations of corruption and money-laundering
Asif Ali Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, were accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder millions of dollars in the 1990s, when Bhutto was the prime minister, according to the BBC. The case was closed by the Swiss authorities in 2007, so Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered Gilani to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the case.

Gilani refused to do so, saying that since Zardari was now the president, he was immune from criminal prosecution, according to the constitution. “I have protected the constitution of this country,” Gilani told Parliament.

After repeated refusals over two years, Gilani was finally convicted of contempt of court, but not given the usual six-month prison sentence. Rather, he was symbolically kept in custody for the duration of the verdict: all of a few minutes. And since Pakistan’s constitution says a member of parliament can only be disqualified after a prison sentence of at least two years, he is not automatically barred from office.

What it means for Pakistan
The court’s verdict and “sentence” diverted attention from the real issue of Zardari’s alleged corruption, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the head of an Islamabad based political think tank, told CNN. “We have failed to arrive at any conclusion and we’re still perceived as a nation that doesn’t abide by the rule of law,” he said.

And given their track record, the drama is likely to continue, wasting valuable time and resources that should instead be used to tackle more important issues like poverty and terrorism.

The verdict also shows how shaky Pakistan’s political system and democracy continues to be. The court was forced to respect constitutional procedures and refrain from handing down a heavier punishment to Gilani, because sentencing a sitting head of government to six months in prison in a country where democratically-elected regimes already have a short lifespan would have been unwise, Waris Husain writes in Dawn, allowing Gilani to be more aggressive than otherwise.

What it means for Gilani
Gilani’s standing among Pakistanis may have been boosted by his refusal to acquiesce to the Supreme Court, whose pursuit of the contempt case was perceived by many as interference in the country’s political affairs, according to the BBC.

And despite the court’s desire to send a message to the government by making Gilani the only sitting Prime Minister to be convicted of contempt of court, the fact remains that the ultimate decision to remove Gilani can only be made by the legislature, not the judiciary. But the fractious opposition seems unlikely to have enough support to carry that through.

On the flip side, Gilani’s refusal to resign has angered not only the opposition, but also some of his own party members, Husain writes. If this is true, the current government will find it even harder to finish their term before the general elections early next year, and the Speaker of Parliament could be pressured into instigating disqualification procedures.

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