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Conviction Heaps Pressure On Gilani To Exit PM's Post

  • RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani waves after arriving at the Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 26.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani waves after arriving at the Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 26.

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Supreme Court has found Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt but did not order him to serve time in jail.

While he was spared a possible six-month jail sentence, the verdict quickly prompted calls from within the ruling coalition and other places for his resignation.

The country's highest court had charged Gilani with contempt in February for failing to reopen a graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani had argued that the president, who rejects the corruption charges, has immunity from prosecution while in office.

The three-month trial ended when the court gave Gilani the token sentence, detaining him in the courtroom until the end of the proceedings.

He emerged shortly afterward, smiling and waving to supporters.

AP news agency quoted Gilani’s lawyer as saying he would appeal.

Gilani was facing up to six months in jail and the automatic loss of office.

Calls For Gilani's Resignation

Despite the token sentence, pressure to quit was already mounting from allies and opponents of Gilani's ruling Pakistan People's Party.

Gilani has reportedly called for a meeting of governing coalition partners later in the day to discuss the verdict.

Bushra Gohar, a lawmaker for the ruling coalition's Awami National Party, expressed a desire for Gilani to step down.

"Today a meeting is being held with all [the ruling coalition] allies [on] what decision will be taken by prime minister and president now," Gohar told Radio Mashaal. "This is my personal opinion: that the prime minister will leave the post and parliament is in session, so there will be [the selection] of another prime minister."

Pakistan's main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, said Gilani should "immediately resign" and called for fresh elections.

Munawar Hussain, chief of the hard-line Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, also urged the prime minister to quit as he had "lost moral ground" after the judgment.

Speaking to the journalists before the verdict, Gilani's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said that in case of a guilty verdict, the prime minister would not automatically be disqualified from holding office.

"The prime minister will remain as the prime minister even after whatever decision may come," Ahsan had said. "The process for removing a prime minister in the constitution says: Whenever any question arises as to the qualification or disqualification of any member of the [Pakistani National Assembly] it will be sent to its speaker."

Persistent Allegation Against Zardari

Gilani took office in March 2008 and is the longest-serving prime minister in the history of Pakistan, where civilian governments have repeatedly been toppled by the country's powerful military.

President Zardari, who is accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder bribes in the late 1990s, says the charges are politically motivated.

In 2009, the Supreme Court overturned an amnesty dating from the period of former President Pervez Musharraf that protected Zardari and hundreds of other politicians from being prosecuted for corruption.

The Supreme Court has said Gilani defied a court order to write to the Swiss authorities and ask them to reopen the cases against Zardari.

His defense argued that there was no justification to apply for the revival of the case in Switzerland, which had been closed by a Swiss judge.

It also argued that Zardari has international immunity against criminal proceedings for as long as he is president.

The case is part of a stand-off between the government and the judiciary. Members of the government have accused judges of over-stepping their reach and of trying to bring down the prime minister and the president.

With additional reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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