Gilani given last lifeline by SC: Pak media
Gilani`s response when he appears in the apex court on January 19 is expected to influence the outcome of the current face-off between the Pakistan People`s Party-led government and the assertive judiciary over the reopening of graft cases in Switzerland against President Asif Ali Zardari, leading newspapers said in their editorials.
The banner headline in the Dawn newspaper read `Defiant premier in the dock Supreme Court slaps Gilani with contempt`, while the front page of Pakistan Today featured an old Western movie-style wanted poster with Gilani`s face under the slogan "Contempt of court".
The apex court on Monday issued a notice to Gilani to explain why contempt of court proceedings should not be started against him for failing to act on its orders to revive cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari.
The Dawn said in its editorial that the Supreme Court had apparently given the PPP-led government "one last lifeline".
In an editorial titled `A testing time`, The Express Tribune said much would now depend on the premier`s response when he appears in the apex court.
The newspaper said Gilani deserved appreciation for "his vigorous defence of democracy" and for suggesting that the "military had a constitutional role to play". "This should come not just from his party but from the entire nation that can ill-afford another general who thinks the reins of power rightfully belong to him," it said.
However, The Express Tribune warned that "all this could come to nought if, for example, the Prime Minister is found guilty of contempt of court". If that happens, Gilani would have to step down and would perhaps be disbarred from contesting elections for a certain period of time, it said.
Speaking in parliament, Gilani on Monday said he would appear in the Supreme Court to answer the contempt notice. He said the judiciary and the military may have differences with his government but they would have to protect democracy.
The beleaguered government got a shot in the arm when a pro-democracy resolution tabled by a junior partner of the ruling coalition was passed by a majority in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament. The judiciary and the military, Gilani said, could not "derail" or "pack up" the democratic system.
The Dawn newspaper questioned why the government was "unwilling to write the letter to Swiss authorities that the Supreme Court has demanded" for reviving the graft cases against Zardari. "Even constitutional and legal experts in PPP circles have suggested that merely writing the letter will not endanger the position of President Zardari or the standing of the political government," the editorial said.
If the letter is written even at this stage, the court "would likely accept compliance with its orders and the country could close this unhappy chapter".
"Merely stating that he respects the Supreme Court, as the Prime Minister said in his speech, will not suffice."
The premier`s speech in parliament did not have the "ring of a farewell speech", indicating that no side is "willing to climb down the ladder of escalation". "Therefore, almost by default, the country seems to be inching ever closer to a disaster for the democratic process," the editorial warned.
"Merely getting a resolution passed that shows the coalition`s strength in parliament will not strengthen the democratic process," the Dawn added.
The News, in its editorial `Notice to PM`, largely blamed the government for the standoff with the judiciary. It cautioned that if Gilani tells the apex court on January 19 that the government will not write to Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases, he "could stand to become ineligible to be a member of parliament".
The Pakistan Today daily, in its editorial titled `Crisis still unresolved`, said President Zardari`s directive to Gilani to appear before the apex court would not resolve the crisis "unless either Mr Zardari succeeds in getting immunity from the Supreme Court in matters of litigation or the government writes to the Swiss authorities to open the cases against the President".
The daily further said: "The court and the government have taken strong positions. Unless either of the two displays flexibility, there is little hope of the crisis being defused."
Even if Gilani is removed, the PPP has enough strength to get another loyalist elected to the post of premier, it said. "This will, however, only intensify the crisis by bringing the judiciary and executive into head-on clash. This would be recipe for the unravelling of the system, which needs to be avoided," Pakistan Today said.