Islamabad, (IANS) The Pakistani Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that Yousuf Raza Gilani stood disqualified as prime minister as well as MP since the apex court’s April 26 verdict holding him in contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain heard a set of constitutional petitions challenging National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza’s ruling over Gilani’s qualification as prime minister, Dawn News reported.
The petitions were filed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and advocate Azhar Chaudhry challenging the speaker’s ruling that the apex court verdict in the contempt case did not disqualify Gilani from holding the prime minister’s post.
A seven-member bench of the apex court had convicted Gilani April 26 of contempt of court. The court, however, sentenced him only “until the rising of the court”, or till the time the judges left the court chamber. That was only for about 30 seconds after the verdict was handed down.
“Yousuf Raza Gilani has become disqualified from being member of the parliament,” said Chief Justice Chaudhry, reading the order.
“He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan with effect from the same date (April 26) and office of the prime minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly.”
The court asked Zardari to take necessary steps under the constitution to ensure continuation of the democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country.
“The Election Commission is required to issue notification of disqualification. The president is required to take necessary steps under the constitution to ensure continuation of democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country,” Chaudhry said.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Attorney General Irfan Qadir said the prime minister was not answerable to the court over the dispensation of his professional duties.
A resolution had been moved by the government and was adopted by the National Assembly June 14.
“We respect the courts. However, state institutions should try to avoid a clash among themselves,” the attorney general said.
The chief justice said the judiciary respected parliament and that there was no clash between the state institutions.
Khilji said the court’s duty was to interpret the law and the constitution, and to stop all measures which violate these.
Attorney General Qadir said if the court issued an order against the speaker’s ruling, parliament would declare it invalid.
Qadir said the verdict of the seven-judge bench in the contempt of court case against Gilani was “unconstitutional”, and he feared that the court may issue “another ruling which could be against the law”.
There was no law in the country which addresses the issue of the contempt of court, the attorney general said.
Khilji said the attorney general should provide evidence for his claim that the country had no law to address the contempt issue.
Qadir said the prime minister being summoned by the court was also against the law, and that the immunity which the office of the president enjoys could only be eliminated by parliament.
The chief justice said Gilani’s conviction could have been suspended if it was challenged.
“Only the appellate court can review a judicial ruling, no one can wipe away a judicial ruling,” Chaudhry was quoted as saying by Geo News.
Gilani has refused to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against Zardari, arguing that the president enjoys immunity under the constitution.
Accused of graft, Zardari had been granted amnesty under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate his return and, primarily that of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Zardari and Bhutto were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.
The NRO that granted immunity to politicians and bureaucrats in corruption cases was struck down by the Supreme Court as void in 2009.
The apex court warned the government of action if its ruling on the NRO was not implemented by Jan 10, 2012. It ordered Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen cases against Zardari.
In January, the court issued Gilani a contempt notice for not acting against Zardari. Gilani belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) headed by Zardari’ son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Under the constitution, anyone convicted of defaming or ridiculing the judiciary is barred from being an MP.
The matter of disqualification fell first on National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, also a member of the ruling PPP, who said conviction for contempt was not a charge that meant Gilani should be disqualified under the constitution.
Gilani subsequently decided not to appeal his conviction in a move interpreted as an effort not to antagonise the court into disqualifying him.