Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Image Credit: AFP

A conviction slapped against Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani last week may be seen as a trivial matter by some in the country's ruling structure. But the powerful reality of this monumental milestone in Pakistan's troubled political history cannot be ignored.

The outcome of a legal dispute related to charges of contempt of court against Gilani finally saw him convicted. The case emerged from the government's continued refusal to formally ask the Swiss authorities to re-visit allegations of corruption involving President Asif Ali Zardari.

The defiance has been nothing more than shoving matters under the carpet, a critical issue which involves not just the president but the sanctity of an already tarnished presidency.

Though the sentence itself practically saw the prime minister placed in confinement for roughly 30 seconds, the implications of the matter are far more serious. As a convict serving in public office, a considerable body of legal opinion believes, Gilani has become ineligible to remain prime minister.

However, against unprecedented controversy and in keeping with his own character as well as that of his regime, Gilani has defied his critics. A fiery speech by the prime minister in parliament following the verdict clearly suggested that he has no intention of stepping down. Indeed, the reaction from the top elected official in Pakistan's executive is hardly surprising. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has developed a habit in the past four years of seeking to politicise even the most critical matters linked to the country's interests.

On another matter tied to allegations targeting one of Gilani's sons for involvement in a recent drug scandal, the government has reportedly sought to play it down.

Going forward, Gilani and the PPP will likely keep up their zealous defence of their positions in the name of preserving and protecting Pakistan's democracy. Veiled references to so called conspiracies undermining a democratically-elected government are indeed just methods to defend an indefensible state of affairs.

Gilani's decision to defy the odds and that too in public must be taken with unlimited pinches of salt. Indeed, by defying the court, Pakistan's prime minister is now showing a determination to weaken the very democracy that he and the PPP are seeking to defend.

Going forward, Gilani's defence will in fact turn out to be another monumental liability for Pakistan's ruling structure. At a time when the PPP and the establishment must be more perturbed over Pakistan's broader direction as a country, which is sinking under the weight of gross mismanagement, the choice of turning to protect the democratic framework is indefensible.

Compelling issues

Ultimately, the best guarantors of Pakistan's democracy must be the country's mainstream population. Tragically though, ordinary Pakistanis continue to suffer increasingly as issues affecting daily lives have become far more compelling and challenging with the passage of time.

A quick review of the PPP's four-year tenure simply highlights one dismal failure after another. A look at the state of affairs across ordinary households will easily highlight what is indeed evidence of national decay and disorder.

Four years after the PPP-led ruling structure came to power, the incomes of ordinary Pakistanis in real terms are rapidly in a declining mode. Critical needs ranging from electricity to gas for cooking purposes are in short supply and are now more compelling issues than ever before. And while the prime minister seeks to defend his son, Gilani's position simply highlights a more critical dimension of Pakistan's sorry tale.

If ordinary Pakistanis are to be believed, corruption of the kind discussed today is indeed of unprecedented proportions. Rather than tackle such compelling matters head-on, the choice of seeking to ignore them will neither serve the government nor Pakistan.

The political opposition's response, and predictably so, is to up the ante. Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is under mounting pressure not just from his party's leaders but also from his constituents to lead anti-government protests on the streets.

Sharif, faced with confronting a sinking regime, will blunder if he pays no more than lip service to confronting the ruling structure. The tragedy must eventually be that this mounting confrontation may be avoidable but only if Gilani was to step down, respecting the court's verdict. But judging by the ruling regime's history, showing deference to the rule of law is only to be done when it services a political interest or two.

 

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.