It may be somewhat tragic that, so close to completing his five-year term, Yusuf Raza Gilani decided to pick up a needless confrontation with the supreme judiciary and had to leave office as a convict in a contempt of court case. The Supreme Court judgement that disqualified him was inevitable, though the honourable judges, it appears, took pains to delay it so that the perception that they were gunning for the PPP government could not become strong. They risked being called indecisive, vague and, by some, scared of giving clear and categorical verdicts. Yet they did the right thing, as no one wanted to turn the government into a bunch of political martyrs. Contrary to the claims by many, the ouster of the prime minister and his cabinet has not shaken the democratic system. Parliament is intact and a new leader of the house may soon be in place, although for a brief period of a few months as the general elections are due by February. Despite obvious reservations about the SC judgment the PPP has reacted with maturity and restraint. The call by its leadership that its workers should remain calm and not react on the streets is a welcome development. The silver lining in the otherwise sorry episode is that, after so much bickering and obstinacy, the PPP government and leadership appear prepared to accept the Supreme Court verdict. Their first response has been that the PM and his cabinet are no longer in office; and that speaks a lot about the constitutional supremacy of the judiciary in interpreting legal and constitutional issues, as the final arbiter. This gives considerable strength to the institution which, till yesterday, was under a blistering attack, a conspiracy to malign the chief justice of Pakistan and, through a concerted plan, push him out of office for wrongdoings his son may have committed. The objectivity and confidence shown by the chief justice despite such attacks is an encouraging sign that he has not been intimidated by conspiracies and media blasts.
The fall of Gilani has larger implications for the country’s political, economic, strategic and security policies. The vacuum in the power corridors has to be quickly filled. The president, who is also the co-chairman of the PPP, has to make some quick decisions; but constitutionally he is not empowered to run the country without a cabinet and a PM, who has to be the chief executive. The country is literally on fire with widespread public demonstrations and with violence spreading because of several factors, the power crisis and loadshedding being the main trigger and inflation, insecurity, uncertainty and a general sense of hopelessness being the others. The relations between the centre and the provinces, especially Punjab, are at the lowest ebb. Relations with the US are at a critical stage and need a united and coherent national leadership to handle the key issues of Nato supplies and the developing Pak-Afghan scenario. The best course for the country would be a smooth transition, a democratic one, with as little controversy and conflict as possible so that a precedent for political change without upsetting the applecart is set. Extreme restraint and political maturity and vision are needed on the part of all the players.