LAHORE - Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani did on Monday what he has consistently been saying after the March 8 order of the Supreme Court.
He filed a formal reply in the apex court telling it categorically that he will not write a letter to the Swiss authorities because of the constitutional immunity available to the president. The premier’s position is in conflict with the SC order which had asked the leader from Multan and the longest serving prime minister in country’s history to send the communication to have cases against the president reopened without waiting for advice from anybody.
The objective of such a clear order was to let everyone know that the court is not convinced by the immunity argument and wants its more-than-two-year-old verdict implemented in its entirety. But Mr Gilani did not change his oft-repeated position and told the bench that he stands by his earlier stand on the subject.
In fact, he overstepped his jurisdiction when instead of complying with the court order, he advised the bench to refer the matter to parliament or leave it to people. This clearly is the logic of the guilty. Those with clean hands don’t rely on such excuses.
The prime minister had given his first reaction to the Supreme Court’s March 8 after three days. He had told reporters that he would not have waited for so long if he were to write the letter.
He argued that the immunity available to the president under Article 248 of Constitution cannot be taken away without amending this provision.
After another three days it was Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan who said the prime minister will not join the ranks of violators of the Constitution by sending the communication to the Swiss authorities.
A day later, the prime minister toughened his stand, saying he is willing to go to jail on contempt charges but will not write the letter.
Gilani, who sounded more like a judge than the head of government, declared that writing the letter – as ordered by the court – will amount to subverting the Constitution, an offence punishable with death.
He said contempt carries only six months’ imprisonment and thus would prefer it to the gallows, which he would be facing in case of violating the Constitution.
Instead of showing disloyalty to the president, Gilani said, he would prefer quitting politics.
The prime minister did not stop here. He said court should proceed against parliament – not against any individual – if it has to take forward the contempt proceedings.
Three days later, the prime minister sat in judgment in the case against him. He told reporters at his residence that the Supreme Court should refer the immunity issue to parliament. His argument was that it was only the bicameral house that could waive the immunity. Even the president cannot take away the shield provided to him by the basic law, he said.
In the reply submitted yesterday, the prime minister said presenting the president before a foreign magistrate will be violative of the Constitution.
The SC-government conflict has now entered a decisive phase. The court has to look into all aspects of the matter before coming up with an authoritative judgment.
The court is expected to give its opinion on whether the accused in the money laundering cases is President Zardari or the PPP co-chairman. Constitutional experts are of the view that it is Mr Zardari who faces the charge of keeping ill-gotten money in Swiss banks.  He had become president much later, because of which he is not entitled to the immunity his lawyer claims he has.
If the allegation is against the ruling party boss, the prime minister cannot refuse to write the letter the court wants him to write.
The SC should also decide whether it’s the prime minister alone who committed the contempt by defying the apex court orders or the cabinet ministers who advised him against sending the communication are also culpable.
The matter was discussed at a meeting of the federal cabinet and at the end of it reporters were told that the cabinet was of the view the president enjoys immunity. If all ministers – and even the political allies of the PPP – also have the same view, then all of them should be proceeded against. They are all obstructing justice, which is more serious an offence than contempt of court.
This is clearly breach of the oath of the prime minister. He is trying to save Mr Zardari from any negative fallout, turning back on the commitment he had made to the nation before taking over as the head of government.
A couple of sentences from the prime minister’s oath are: “That I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions”.
“That I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan:
“That in all circumstances, I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.
The prime minister’s conduct in the present cases clearly shows to what extent he has honoured his oath.
The issue of the NRO case judgment implementation has already been pending with the court for long. Thousands of news items and columns have been published about it and countless talk shows held. However, the controversy about the immunity issue persists.
The court should not take more time to decide the matter now. The entire nation wants to see how the supremacy of the Constitution is upheld. All eyes are focused on the judiciary. It has to come up to people’s expectations.