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Latest in a queue of controversies

Prime minister found guilty of contempt of court but refuses to step down despite protests

Latest in a queue of controversies
Silent Thinker, Lahore

April 27, 2012

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Yesterday another controversy arose in Pakistan when the supreme court declared Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani guilty, handed him a symbolic sentence but spared him a jail sentence in its judgment.
What resulted from this historic order is something unprecedented in the history of the country – a prime minister convicted for contempt of court.
Gilani, who had promised time and again to respect the judiciary, now says he will not quit. His ruling Pakistan People’s Party plans to pursue a legal battle against the verdict handed over to the chief executive of the federation for failing to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Excitement after the long awaited verdict may continue for at least four months as the whole procedure to strip the prime minister from the national assembly unfolds.
Office work halted around the country yesterday morning as everybody watched TV for the outcome of the standoff between government and judiciary. The afternoon brought rallies in protest against the court verdict.
However, unrest started in the evening when shooting erupted in different areas of Karachi, the financial and commercial capital long besieged by target killings. “Please pray for our safety, the city is tense again”, stated a text message I received.
The latest controversy follows a series of scandals since the Pakistan People's Party came to power. Major newspapers still carry articles and updates on a controversy revolving around a memorandum (alleged to have been drafted by a former Pakistani ambassador to the US) which sought US help to avert a military takeover of the civilian government in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid by the US navy last year.
In 2010, the passage of an 18th amendment stirred interest. Christian leaders criticized the amendment, which although empowering parliament, legislated that only a Muslim could become president or prime minister. Analysts also criticized the government for bypassing basic issues like a power shortage, deterioration of several public sector enterprises, escalation of terrorism and formulating a long term remedy to the country’s challenges. A law cannot fill empty bellies, they said.
Even the election of Zardari as president in 2008 after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto surprised many given his unpopular past when he was tagged with the nickname "Mr Ten Percent" for alleged corruption.
There is no denying that controversy creates cash. Many TV shows depend on this formula for holding the attention of the audience. However, making it a political stratagem to distract the people from thinking about real life issues and exerting energy benefitting “only politicians” has produced nothing but total chaos in the country.
A controversial prime minister will not help improve democracy or the economic wellbeing of the country. The punishment for 32 seconds will have its implications for more than three decades.
The symbolic sentence by the supreme court clearly maintained the status of premier as a criminal yet saved the system from derailment. Stepping down like any civilized leader for the sake of morality could have heralded a sign of change for depressed nation facing mini civil wars in different parts of the country. Obviously that level of maturity in our country leadership is missing.
Opposition party leaders, who also constitute coalition partners of the government, are now formulating future strategies but will ultimately yield to the survival tactics of the president which he has mastered over the years.
The Pakistan People’s Party will complete its five year term despite allegations of bad government. Democracy will finally prevail but this will come at the cost of yesterday’s twisted chapter which is now part of our history.
Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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