Politics in Pakistan was flung into confusion when the Supreme Court disqualified the sitting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from public office, thanks to Gilani having “flouted, disregarded and disobeyed the court order” that required Gilani to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The Supreme Court is headed by the politically active Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who gained huge public profile by challenging Pakistan’s previous head of state, the military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Under the present elected government, Chaudhry has continued to take the Supreme Court beyond its basic legal remit and has plunged it into the heart of day-to-day politics. There can be no doubt that Chaudhry was making a political statement when he read out the court’s order that “Gilani is disqualified from membership of parliament. He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan”.
Of course, no one is above the law and this applies to the prime minister and the president, as it does to any other citizen of the country. It is well known that there have been accusations of corruption swirling around Zardari for years, Long before he took office, dating back to the time when his wife late Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister, and these should be answered with facts, rather than pleas of immunity to avoid trial.
But that said, any case brought against any public official has to be legally sound and should exclude any political element. It is a problem that the Supreme Court’s pursuit of Gilani has not been about a straight accusation of corruption, such as looking at misuse of office or money or favours received. Instead, the court has focused on where Gilani’s loyalty should lie: either to the law and Supreme Court (according to the Chief Justice), or to the President and party leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, which has a majority in the National Assembly. This apparent legal issue has a strong political element.