National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza on Thursday ruled that there was no case for disqualifying Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani as a member of the House. The Speaker's office had become the focal point after the Supreme Court referred to a disqualification from Parliament clause in its judgment in the contempt of court case against the Premier.
In doing so, Ms. Mirza cited precedent set in the case of veteran legislator Javed Hashmi who joined cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's party recently after a long stint with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). The two parties have separately launched campaigns for Mr. Gilani's ouster as he was now a ‘convict'.
The Speaker gave her ruling just two days short of a month since the Supreme Court convicted the Prime Minister on April 26 for contempt of court for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities asking them to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
After sentencing Mr. Gilani to a 37-second imprisonment — essentially till the rising of the court — the seven-judge bench referred to Article 63(1) (g) of the Constitution which provides for disqualification of a member from Parliament for ridiculing the judiciary. According to the Court's short order, the contempt committed by the Prime Minister is substantially detrimental to the administration of justice and “tends to bring this court and the judiciary of this country into ridicule''.
As per Article 63 (2), the Speaker had 30 days to decide on the issue if a case of disqualification arises; failing which the matter automatically goes to the Election Commission of Pakistan which has to take a view within 90 days.
Given the opposition clamour that the Speaker simply refer the matter to the Election Commission, Ms. Mirza said the role of the Chair is not just that of a post-office. Citing case law of 1995 vintage — which was later endorsed by the Supreme Court in 2005 — she said the Speaker has to apply his/her mind and then decide whether a question of disqualification has arisen which may justify referring the matter to the Chief Election Commissioner.
Pointing out that no specific charge regarding ridiculing the judiciary was framed against the Prime Minister, she rejected a petition of a member of the National Assembly for Mr. Gilani's disqualification and sought to bring the matter to a close but the political battle raged on. Earlier this month, the Islamabad High Court had also held that the Supreme Court while convicting the Prime Minister for contempt had not disqualified him.
And, over the past couple of days, while hearing the missing persons case in Balochistan, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhury repeatedly referred to Mr. Gilani as Prime Minister; resulting in many an analyst inferring that this was by far the clearest indication from the highest quarters in the judiciary that he had not been disqualified by the seven-judge bench.