Gilani bruised in power struggle by court blow

Gilani bruised in power struggle by court blow

Gilani bruised in power struggle by court blow

A throng of supporters surround PM Gilani (R) as he walks into the court in Islamabad, showering him with rose petals. Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicts Gilani of contempt but gives him only a symbolic few minutes of detention inside the courtroom. AP photo

Pakistan’s Supreme Court yesterday found Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president, but gave him only a symbolic sentence of a few minutes’ detention in the courtroom.

It was unclear if the token sentence would defuse political uncertainty in Pakistan, where the president and prime minister have jousted with the military and judiciary. Despite the light sentence, Gilani could still come under pressure to quit.

“For reasons to be recorded later, the prime minister is found guilty of contempt for willfully flouting the direction of the Supreme Court,” said Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk. Gilani is the first serving prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be convicted by a court. The ruling said that Gilani would serve a sentence only “until the rising of the court,” or until the judges left the chamber. That happened about three minutes after the verdict was handed down. He could have faced up to six months in jail and the loss of his office. Gilani will appeal against his conviction, his lawyer said.

A throng of supporters surrounded Gilani as he walked into the court in Islamabad, showering him with rose petals. Security was tight, with about 1,000 police officers standing by in riot gear and helicopters circling the Supreme Court building.

Opposition demands resignation

Pakistani opposition parties immediately demanded the resignation of Gilani. Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the main Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party who has twice served as prime minister, said Gilani should quit and call fresh elections. “The prime minister should immediately resign. He should step down without causing a further crisis,” Sharif said live on the private television station Geo. The chief of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Munawar Hussain, also urged the prime minister to quit, saying he had “lost moral ground” after the judgment.

The case stems from what many observers say is a political battle between the government and the military, which has held the whip hand in Pakistan’s political arena for most of the country’s 64 years of independence. Many say the army is using the court to keep the government on the defensive.
Thousands of corruption cases were thrown out in 2007 due to an amnesty law passed under former military President Pervez Musharraf, which paved the way for a return to civilian rule.

Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that agreement illegal and ordered cases involving Swiss banks and President Asif Ali Zardari re-opened. Gilani and his government have refused to obey the court’s order to write to Swiss authorities asking them to re-open the money-laundering cases against Zardari. The government argues that Zardari has immunity as the head of state.

Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.