February 13th, 2012
03:30 PM ET

Pakistan Prime Minister's indictment alters ruling party calculus

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was indicted by the Supreme Court today on the grounds that he had disobeyed its instructions to write to Swiss authorities in order to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani pleaded not guilty and the hearing has been postponed until February 22. He maintains that Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution while in office, and says that he himself would prefer to be dismissed rather than write to the Swiss authorities. If convicted, Gilani could face five years' disqualification from public office and six months' imprisonment.

Tensions between the Supreme Court and the government have persisted since 2008, when Zardari was reluctant to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry over fears that he would revive old graft cases. Since then, the Court has sought to assert itself as the guarantor of political probity. For example, it imposed a cap on sugar prices during shortages in 2009 and ordered the government to disband party-linked Karachi militias in 2011.

However, recent judicial proceedings against the national coalition are politically more sensitive because the Court is being cheered on by the military, which views Zardari's poor management of the economy as a threat to its budget and financial interests.

The governing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has agreed at all levels to continue to defy the Court, judging that the political fallout from any reopened, overseas graft cases would be intolerable. Gilani has stated that he believes he will automatically cease to hold office if convicted and would not need to resign. This statement plays into several options presently being considered by the PPP.

Zardari may be able to use powers granted to the president under Article 45 of the Constitution to pardon contempt charges and reverse Gilani’s disqualification from office. Alternatively, Zardari could invoke Article 94, which permits the president to ask the prime minister to remain in office until a successor has been selected (something the PPP could delay). However, legal opinion is divided on this option.

Already, the PPP has succeeded in enlisting the heads of its allied parties either to attend the hearings with Gilani or protest outside, and called on its elected officials and party workers to demonstrate outside the Court's premises. In doing so, the PPP hopes to benefit electorally from the legal proceedings, which it views as a step too far by the Court. They will portray Gilani as an elected prime minister persecuted by a judiciary performing the army's bidding.

Were Gilani imprisoned it would permit the PPP to occupy a political high-ground and boost voter confidence, especially in Punjab where its support has been low. For their part, opposition parties would seek to erode the lustre of Gilani's putative political martyrdom by reminding voters that, should he end up in prison, he would be there only to protect Zardari from investigations of graft.

Proceedings against Gilani will likely last until July, and he will probably receive no more than a token sentence of ten days or less. Zardari could follow the example of former President Rafiq Tarar, who in 1997 pardoned then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's contempt charge, thereby permitting Gilani to remain in office. Yet the government is preparing for Gilani's ouster and contemplating an option wherein his successors would continue to defy the Court on the graft issue and be replaced one after another. Although the government's policy agenda will remain stalled, the legal controversy is unlikely to cause significant political instability.

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Topics: Pakistan

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Armando A. Garcia MD

    US pressure on Iran economically over the last year has reduced the currency 65%. The European Union has stopped buying fuel from Iran. Why is the US still buying fuel from Venezuela's Chavez , who is as major supporter of Iran and on going threat to Democracy and freedom in South and Central America.
    The is hypocrisy at its best in politics.

    February 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply

    Comparing with the Middle-Eastern, North-African and some European Governments, the Pakistan current PM did a great job, by subjecting himself to obey Pakistan's Law equally, as any Pakistan people. This is called; Democracy!
    Good for him.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    If Gilani were found guilty he can still exhaust all legal procedures before the verdict is final. It might take years. Meanwhile he could stay in office till the next parliamentary elections in 2013. If the ruling party PPP loses, he will have to quit anyway.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  4. krm1007

    "Experimental Democracy" has failed in India. An experiment that was being shoved down India's throat by western countries too eager to propagate their own values on a country that was trying to decolonize itself while trying to shed the communist skin of being a Soviet ally. India was thus trapped. What has become evident now is that this "Experimental Democracy" has marginalized the country. The marginalized groups of the country – Dalits and ‘backward’ castes/classes, indigenous ‘tribal’ people and religious minorities have been disenfranchised. "The belief that corruption is the important issue in the country is shared only by the minority living in urban areas and towns who have been beneficiaries of economic liberalization policies mandated by western countries. The most important challenges of Indian society remain as follows: justice, social and economic equality and equal access to certain standards of life for all Indians. “While India seems too eager to please its western masters and put on a progressive and softer face for CNN for public consumption, people see through it. The consequences of this "Band – Aid" approach will be brutal for India geo-politically when it realizes that the GDP statistics that it has been relying to gage its progress has not amounted to much in the long run.

    February 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply

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