Following the stunning decision Tuesday by Pakistan’s top court to disqualify Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is scrambling to find a successor as the ties between the nation’s civilian government and court plunge to an all-time low.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who is intimately involved in the intrigue surrounding Gilani’s removal from office, has cancelled a trip to Russia in order to deal with the emergency.
“The process of consultation is continuing. The Pakistan People’s Party has made up its mind to elect a new prime minister rather than confront the court and create constitutional deadlock,” a government official told Agence France Presse.
The president summoned parliament to meet on Friday to elect a replacement for Gilani and avoid the necessity of holding early elections.
The next prime minister will be elected by the national assembly. He will be a member of parliament. He will be a nice person and loyal to the party, Gilani's attorney and PPP member Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters.
Gilani was removed from office for his refusal to investigate a corruption case linked to Zardari. Gilani, who had repeatedly asserted that Zardari is immune from any investigation or prosecution while he holds office as head of state, was convicted of a contempt charge by the court in late April. The court had demanded that Gilani ask authorities in Switzerland to re-open a multimillion-dollar corruption case against the sitting president.
That contempt charge was largely symbolic since it did not lead to any jail time, nor did it immediately force Gilani out of office.
But now, Gilani has run out of options and likely has no political future.
Although PPP is Pakistan’s largest political party, it lacks a majority in Parliament, meaning the new PM would have to have the backing of opposition groups.
According to reports, textiles minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin and the minister for water and power, Ahmed Mukhtar, are possible Prime Minister candidates.
Taking into account the venomous relationship between Pakistan democratically-elected politicians and the courts, media in the country suspect the military is behind Gilani's removal (with the complicity of the court).
Asma Jehangir, former president of Pakistan Bar Council, told BBC: when the court becomes a dictator, the situation could get worse than under a [military] dictatorship.”
Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English-language newspaper, expressed alarm over the development, calling it an extraordinary -- and unfortunate – step.”
What is critical now is that elections are held, whether early or on time and as free and fair as possible, so that the final judgment can be left to the people's court, the paper wrote.
The United States, which has seen its relationship with erstwhile ally Pakistan decline precipitously over a number of issues over the past year, including Osama bin Laden’s long-time residence in the country, drone strikes and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, is very concerned about the new political crisis in Islamabad.
“We’ve said all along that we expect that Pakistan will resolve any of these internal issues in a just and transparent manner in accordance with Pakistan’s own laws and constitution,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
“Our understanding is that the Pakistani government itself is meeting now to decide how it goes forward from here… So it is our hope and expectation that we’ll be able to continue to do that, but they obviously have to work their internal issues internally.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.