Pakistan: Supreme Court Disqualifies Prime Minister

Pakistan's political environment has been rather turbulent for quite some time. The ruling party, Pakistan People's Party, had its horns locked with the highest court of law, the Supreme Court (SC), over alleged contempt of court by the Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani.

While PM was eventually convicted by the SC for being guilty of contempt and was thus sentenced to a few seconds of imprisonment, it seemed that the heat had cooled off. The Speaker of the Parliament, as per the powers vested in him, refused to deem PM as ineligible or dismissed.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani with British Prime Minister. Image by Bimal Sharma. Copyright Demotix.

However, opposition parties took to SC, yet again, filing petitions against the Speaker's ruling and demanding the removal of PM. And today, the SC ruled that PM had been disqualified ever since April 26th, when SC gave the final ruling on the contempt case.

Naturally, the decision came as much of a shock to many. At one side, the popular sentiment was that of jubilation, given the fact that PPP's popularity is touching the lowest right now. However, on the other hand, social and political analysts were quick to express their concern. The chief contention was that SC has absolutely no right, under the constitution, to disqualify a standing PM and that this right remained with the Parliament.

Yasser Latif Hamdani, while writing in Pak Tea House, aptly sums it up:

“Chief Justice of Pakistan is NOT vested with the authority under the constitution to dismiss the Prime Minister or over-rule the decisions of the Speaker i.e. Presiding Officer of the National Assembly whose decisions are his or her privilege and are covered by the parliamentary privilege clause.”

He further wrote:

“Chief Justice of Pakistan/the entire Supreme Court of Pakistan has no authority to dictate to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on what to write to which foreign authority. That is an executive function and not a judicial function.”

Pakistani Twitterati was also abuzz over this new developments, ringing with sentiments ranging from sheer jubilation to bitter criticism. Cyril Almeida, an editor with a local paper, tweeted:

@cyalm: All hail the court. We're one step closer to a judicial dictatorship.

Similar responses were registered by many others on Twitter. Some termed it a ‘Judicial coup’ whereas others likened it to the court-sanctioned murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of PPP, back in 1979 under General Zia's regime:

@shehryar_taseer: Chief Justice Pakistan has staged a Judicial Coup against the democratically elected Government of PM Gillani ‪#Pakistan‬‪#Islamabad‬‪#gillani

Pakistan Peoples Party protest in favor of Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. Image by Janali Laghari. Copyright Demotix

A third opinion, apart from downright jubilation or direct opposition of the decision, was that whereas SC indeed doesn't have the constitutional right to ‘sack’ a PM, doing so to the current government is not all that bad. I tweeted:

@salmanlateef: I absolutely agree that CJ or SC has no right at all to remove a PM. But then, I have no love lost or sympathy for the PPP government.

Despite having the option of trying to oppose the decision, PPP has rather accepted it and has announced that it will be choosing a new Prime Minister within the next 24 hours. This move by the ruling party is considered by many as an attempt to avoid a  direct confrontation between the government and the judiciary.

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