The opposition already calls him “the former prime minister of Pakistan.” His country’s Supreme Court has declared him “wicked”—a “criminal” seeking political “martyrdom through disobeying the law.” It may be a good thing for Yousaf Raza Gilani that he claims descent from Sufi saints, since he’ll certainly need the patience of one as pressure intensifies for him to step down.
The outcry reached an unprecedented pitch last week as the court issued a 77-page “detailed judgment” against Gilani, publicly exhorting the people of Pakistan to rise up against him and his government. “The recent phenomenon known as the Arab Spring is too fresh to be ignored or forgotten,” wrote Justice Asif Khosa in an assenting opinion, citing “the responsibility of the people themselves to stand up for defending the Constitution and ... for dealing with the delinquent appropriately.” Gilani’s alleged crime was to disobey the court’s order for him to request that Swiss authorities reopen old corruption cases against his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari. (Gilani and the Swiss both maintain that Zardari has immunity from criminal prosecution.)
Mere prose apparently could not adequately express Khosa’s condemnation of Gilani: his opinion included a lengthy quote from the Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran, as well as numerous additional lines of his own in which he vowed that “the law shall have the last laugh.” The prime minister is not amused. “This is the first judgment in the world’s legal history in which excessive use of poetry has been made the basis of conviction,” Gilani tells Newsweek. “Are the people of this country in future to be punished on the basis of poetry?”
With elections due early next year, if not sooner, the court’s call to arms has drawn enthusiastic support from the right-wing opposition politicians Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. In response, Gilani’s ruling party is expected to argue that the court is favoring Sharif as a reward for his having bankrolled the Lawyers’ Movement, a mass protest that erupted in 2007 after former president Pervez Musharraf, clinging desperately to power, sacked dozens of judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. With the movement’s help, Chaudhry was finally returned to the bench in 2009.
For now, the prime minister says he will remain in office until he has exercised his legal options. He is appealing the verdict against him—and if it’s upheld, the question of his potential disqualification from office will be decided by the speaker of the National Assembly, who of course belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party, just like Gilani and Zardari, “I have done everything in good faith, with a clean heart and conscience to protect the Constitution,” Gilani says. “What kind of prime minister would I be if I buckled under pressure and ran off?”