x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A political dismissal fails to fix corruption issue

The "judicial coup" in Pakistan may trigger a constitutional crisis that threatens the democratic progress and leads to a military takeover.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's disqualification from office amounts to a judicial coup, and is likely to trigger instability in Pakistan, which is already facing grave challenges on political, economic and security fronts.

The country's Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that Mr Gilani had been disqualified because of his April conviction for contempt of court. That conviction stemmed from his refusal to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reopen money-laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Despite having reservations about the decision, the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has accepted it, probably to avoid further conflict with the judiciary. Mr Zardari, who is also the co-chairman of the PPP, is scheduled to announce the name of the new prime minister.

But the question is: will the new prime minister write the letter to the Swiss and reopen the cases against Mr Zardari? Certainly, a party loyalist cannot be expected to go against his leader. In that case, will the new prime minister also be convicted of contempt of court by the Supreme Court and be disqualified?

Mr Gilani's dismissal will not end the legal and political battle between the judiciary and the executive, which looks set to intensify after the new prime minister takes office.

In 2007, Pakistan's National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was promulgated by former president Pervez Musharraf as a result of a US-brokered deal that allowed the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to return home from self-exile and participate in politics without facing charges. Under the deal, corruption investigations involving about 8,000 ministers, bureaucrats and politicians were halted. After the Bhutto assassination in 2007, her husband, Mr Zardari, took over the PPP and was elected president in 2008 after Gen Musharraf's resignation.

In 2009, the Supreme Court struck down the amnesty that had protected Mr Zardari and several of his political allies from corruption charges. He now faces several charges including the alleged misappropriation of $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) and a multi-million dollar money-laundering case.

Having protected Mr Zardari, Mr Gilani has now become the country's first sitting prime minister to be disqualified by the court. He could have been sentenced to six months in prison.

Since the conviction, opposition parties had been pressing Mr Gilani to quit, but the National Assembly Speaker, Fehmida Mirza, had refused to disqualify him.

The verdict involves a political fallout and implications for the entire country. The ruling PPP has said that it has been victimised ahead of general elections scheduled to be held early next year.

Pakistan is already facing a Taliban-led insurgency in its north-west and a Baloch insurgency in its south-west. A political crisis could lead to a social breakdown in the nuclear-armed country - and a nightmare for the international community.

The country is also facing unrest in Punjab province, where violent protests have mounted against electricity blackouts, which last up to 20 hours. The protesters have attacked public installations and the offices and houses of PPP leaders in the province. Three people lost their lives and dozens of others were injured in the past week.

PPP leaders blame its political rival, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) coalition in Punjab, for encouraging protesters, who have looted banks and shops, burnt vehicles and trains, and called for civil disobedience and a march on Islamabad.

An anti-government revolt is simmering because of record levels of corruption. Bad governance has eroded efficiency in public-sector enterprises, which have become a drain on the national budget.

Furthermore, scandals have dogged Mr Gilani's sons. This year, the Supreme Court was informed by anti-narcotics authorities that a drugs-related scam, worth 7 billion Pakistani rupees (Dh273 million), involved to two pharmaceutical companies with ties to the prime minister's son, Ali Musa Gilani. Allegations of corruption have also been levelled at Mr Gilani's other son, Abdul Qadir.

The middle-class frustration with the worsening socio-economic and unemployment situation is creating a breeding ground for social unrest and militancy.

The executive-judiciary tussle and politics of confrontation may push the country into a constitutional crisis that poses a threat to the democratic system. Both the ruling and opposition parties could be the losers if the military once again takes over.

An alliance of the military and judiciary may take the country out of the crisis, and elections might be postponed. The proposed alliance could appoint a caretaker authority to investigate both the PPP and PML-N. And this would pave the way for Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf - the party of the former cricket player turned politician, Imran Khan - in the next elections.

 

Syed Fazl-e-Haider is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan

www.syedfazlehaider.com