Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, nearly two months after convicting him of contempt of court.
A Division Bench of the nation's apex court had on April 26 convicted Gilani of contempt for disobeying a court order by not writing to the Swiss authorities seeking re-opening of a money laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari. It refrained from awarding Gilani jail sentence, and instead ordered his detention in the court until the hearing adjourned.
Gilani's contention was that he could not write to the Swiss authorities as the President and other top functionaries of the State enjoyed immunity from prosecution under the National Reconciliation Ordinance promulgated by former President Parvez Musharraf.
National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza on May 24 ruled not to send a reference to the Election Commission seeking the Prime Minister's disqualification.
The Supreme Court's final decision came after a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry heard a set of constitutional petitions challenging the Speaker's ruling in favor of Gilani. The apex court said the ruling was void.
Reading the order in a packed courtroom in Islamabad, the Chief Justice said Gilani stands disqualified as a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora, or the Parliament, as well as Prime Minister, since no appeal was filed against the conviction.
The court made it clear that the disqualification would have retrospective effect, and that "the office of the Prime Minister stands vacant." The Supreme Court asked the President to take charge.
It also ordered that the Election Commission "issue notification of disqualification," and that the President "take necessary steps under the Constitution to ensure continuation of democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country."
An emergency meeting of the ruling Pakistan People's Party leadership was held in the wake of Tuesday's court order, and reports say Gilani's successor will be announced tonight after the meeting of the coalition partners.
Pak media highlighted the names of Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, both Cabinet Ministers.
Gilani, the Islamic nation's first-ever sitting Prime Minister to be convicted, had rejected widespread calls from the Opposition to quit, insisting that "the course of democracy would not be sabotaged," and that only Parliament can remove him from office.
The charges against Zardari date back to the 1990s when his assassinated wife Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister. The couple was accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder bribe money.
by RTT Staff Writer
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