GILANI MUST COMPLETE CONSTITUTIONAL TERM

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Zahid Malik

Saturday, May 19, 2012 – Political point scoring notwithstanding, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, as per expert and professional opinion, does not attract disqualification automatically as a direct consequence of the short order of the Supreme Court in the contempt of court case against him. This point of view is held not only by the ruling PPP and its allies but also shared by bars and legal fraternity of the country. Expectations of those who had pinned hopes on the detailed verdict were also dashed when the 77-page judgment authored by Justice Nasirul Mulk and released on May 8, only reiterated what was earlier stated in the short order and avoided directly touching the issue of disqualification. I also fully subscribe to the considered view that Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani remains, legally and constitutionally, chief executive of the country. The very fact that the British government not only invited Pakistan PM on a visit to UK but Prime Minister David Cameron made highly meaningful remarks that Mr. Gilani is strengthening democracy, is also of great significance. This has further enhanced his position and prestige at this critical juncture. It is also pertinent to mention that Islamabad High Courthas rejected a petition challenging legal position of the Prime Minister following the Supreme Court verdict. The IHC categorically stated that the apex court did not disqualify Mr. Gilani.

It is also significant to point out that even the detractors who demand that Gilani should quit base their arguments not on legal points but according to them he should resign on moral grounds. Otherwise too, there is a clear-cut procedure involving both legal and constitutional tracks. One will have to wait for the evolving situation as the Defence Counsel Aitzaz Ahsan will file the appeal and plead the case followed by a verdict of the SC and then there would be role of the National Assembly Speaker and the Election Commission and the whole process will take weeks rather months.

But what inspired me to write this piece is that the incumbent government and, as a matter of principle, every elected government must complete its mandated tenure. This is what I have been emphasizing for the last many many years. It doesn’t mean giving a clean chit or endorsing performance of the government that has remained wanting on various accounts. I have especially been critical of its dismal performance in economic sector and this newspaper has been highlighting in its editorials the weaknesses in economy and in future too we would continue to point out such short comings.

I may point out that during all my one-on-one interactions with Prime Minister Gilani, including the latest one on Thursday last, I have been urging him to prioritize the economy because the country can face all the challenges when our economy is on the growth trajectory and sound footing. In the backdrop of Salala incident, Abbottabad operation and humiliating drone strikes, there is great sensitivity about safeguarding of the national sovereignty but this cherished objective cannot be achieved without taking bold and visionary steps to help the country stand on its own feet economically.

And the reason for my being in favour of completion of the tenure by the Prime Minister is that it will set a healthy democratic tradition as Pakistan has suffered a lot in the 1990s when the elected governments were sent folding prematurely. That ultimately provided ground to the extra constitutional forces to intervene. However, before the 2008 elections, the political forces learned the lesson and entered into an understanding to accept the people’s mandate and not to indulge in politics of agitation for dislodging the sitting government. Luckily Honourable Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry-inspired Supreme Court of Pakistan and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani-led Army are very supportive of the on-going democratic process.

That was a welcome decision and reflected maturity in Pakistani politics. Mian Nawaz Sharif followed it for over four years though at times he faced the criticism of leading a friendly opposition. One may appreciate that despite his opposition to the government, the PML-N President continues to insist that he would not support any extra-constitutional step to remove the incumbent government.

For his part, Prime Minister Gilani has proved his unflinching loyalty to the PPP and its leadership since he took over. He has refused to turn out to be another Farooq Leghari who was accused of stabbing the PPP in the back. During all these years, there were many occasions when writers of doomsday scenario predicted that the days of Gilani government were numbered but he stood firm as he enjoyed an exemplary working relationship with the President.

After the detailed judgment of the Supreme Court, Mr. Gilani vowed to go till last limit meaning to go for appeal and hoped to stay till next elections. He insists that he will defend the constitution and exhaust all his options. He said he was not one of those who would betray his own party and believes that under article 248 of the constitution and the Vienna Convention, the President has complete immunity.

In the present international environment, the buzz word is democracy and I am of the firm opinion that for the survival and strengthening of the country, we need continuity of the democratic system. There is unfortunate tendency in our country that those in the opposition cannot wait for five long years and try to destabilize the Government through different means. It is in this perspective that I have been pleading that the tenure of the Government should constitutionally be brought down to four years so that every Government in power is able to complete its term without leg-pulling by other stakeholders. We must set healthy traditions and show tolerance even if the sitting government is not playing its due role in the eyes of the opposition. Demand for early polls at this juncture holds no ground and is devoid of maturity and wisdom, though it is a democratic demand and in many countries early elections are held under special circumstances or when the parliament is unable to agree on a Chief Executive with majority support.

That is not the case in Pakistan as Mr. Gilani enjoys support of majority and that is why he has repeatedly thrown challenge to the opposition to bring vote of no-confidence against him. We should wait for decision on appeal to the SC and subsequent actions by the Speaker and the Election Commission. Also at this point of time when under the constitution elections are a few months away, the opposition should not show any haste, avoid bitterness and set healthy tradition to allow the government to complete its term. That would be a positive attitude of the opposition and after elections, if it is voted to power, it would have moral ground to tell the PPP that now it is their turn to return the favour. I may warn that if we continued with attempts to change governments midway, Pakistan would never succeed in establishing sustainable democracy.

I say so because long marches and tsunamis may result in some sort of disruption and its fallout might once again sow seeds of confrontation in the future and we would return to the decade of 1990s. That would also hurt the image of Pakistan in the civilized world. If we want to see that the green passport and overseas Pakistanis are accorded due respect and the country enjoy the status of a responsible state, then the political leadership must exercise restraint and adopt a democratic attitude.

Therefore, I would urge all concerned to show a little more patience and tolerance and wait for a few more months as it would make no major difference. Let Mr. Gilani complete his term so that Pakistan moves on the path of genuine democracy. The opposition should better take advantage of the period up to next elections to consolidate its position in different regions of the country and present alternative economic vision and domestic and foreign policies.