Gilani conviction for contempt adds to pol turmoil:Pak media

Islamabad: Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani`s conviction by the Supreme Court for contempt has added "more chaos than clarity to an already messy and murky" political scenario, even though the ruling strengthened the state bodies affected by decades of military rule, the Pakistani media said today.

News of Gilani`s conviction and the symbolic sentence of less than a minute given to him by a seven-judge bench of the apex court on Thursday for refusing to act on orders to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari dominated the front pages of English and Urdu newspapers.

The banner headline in The News read "Guilty but free," while the Daily Times headlined its report "All in 32 seconds – Convicted, jailed, freed."

The headline in the influential Dawn newspaper said, "Down but not out." In its front page report, the Dawn noted that the Supreme Court`s ruling had "added more chaos than clarity to an already messy and murky" political scenario in Pakistan.

The verdict had made Gilani the first chief executive to be convicted for contempt. The News reported that, with the announcement of the verdict, a "dark chapter" had been added to the country`s political history.

Several dailies, including the Dawn and The Express Tribune, were critical of the judiciary for the over two-year-long standoff with the government on the issue of reopening the cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in Switzerland.

Though the Premier walked out of the court a "free" man, he "left behind an uglier, much, much sadder Pakistan," The News contended. The Dawn noted in its editorial that the apex court`s verdict had opened "the door to the disqualification process but stopped short of dragging the Prime Minister through the door itself."

The issue of Gilani`s disqualification had "been tossed back into the political arena, where someone, anyone can move the Speaker of the National Assembly to take note of the judgment and to refer the matter to the Election Commission."

Legal experts have already said that any process to disqualify Gilani could take up to four months as the Speaker has 30 days to decide on such a move and the Election Commission a further 90 days.

The Express Tribune, however, cautioned that the Supreme Court`s "new-found independence and power is a mixed blessing" and comes with great responsibilities. "We should all be thankful that the court is no longer a docile body that exists simply to rubber stamp whatever the government wants… In order for the Supreme Court to be a responsible political power, it has to demonstrate that it is committed to treating all political actors and all institutions equally."

"The truth of the matter is that right now there are many people and not all are members of the PPP – who believe that the Honourable Court is perhaps unfairly targeting the party," the Tribune said in its editorial.

The Dawn, in an editorial titled "Prime Minister`s conviction," said the judiciary`s actions "do raise a question: why drag the country through the months-long circus of a Prime Minister on trial for shielding his boss, the President of Pakistan, from corruption allegations when ultimately all it would do is expose the limits of judicial power?"

It pointed out that the apex court "has shown a keen interest in a very, very narrow set of allegations and cases" related to Zardari and that "judicial selectivity (was) provoking governmental intransigence."

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen the cases against Zardari since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty issued by former dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Gilani had refused to act, saying that the President enjoyed immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

Following Gilani`s conviction, the Cabinet decided that there was no need for him to resign on moral ground as he was not convicted of a criminal offence. The government announced that it would appeal against the conviction, which it contended was "beyond the scope" of charges framed against the Premier.

The News noted in its editorial that the verdict and its aftermath had left "a Pakistan where there will be ever more and continued political acrimony and uncertainty, which will only cripple an administration that has already shown precious little will to tackle the economic and security challenges facing the country. As domestic political crisis escalates, the things that matter – the economy, for instance will only fall by the wayside."