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Pakistan's Prime Minister Refuses To Step Down


Pakistan's Supreme Court has issued a judgment against the country's prime minister - again. The court had already ruled against Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani for blocking a corruption investigation. Now, the judges have released details of their ruling, giving 77 pages worth of reasons why they found the prime minister in contempt of court. Let's remember this conflict is taking place in a vital, if troubled, U.S. ally.

NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us on the line from Islamabad, as she has so many times over the years. Hi, Julie.


INSKEEP: OK, they're calling it the long order, 77 pages. What do you learn from it?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's a very serious condemnation of the prime minister. It's stern and sobering. The court said the prime minister had never intended to comply with the orders to reopen a case of corruption pertaining to President Asif Ali Zardari. It's a Swiss case involving alleged graft and millions stashed in Swiss banks. The court went on to say, if the orders of the highest court are defied by the highest executive in the country, then others would feel tempted to follow suit and the judicial system of the country would collapse.

So, sharp, pointed language to explain their conviction of the prime minister two weeks ago.

INSKEEP: So, they convicted him of contempt of court, they held him, if I'm not mistaken from your earlier reporting, less than a minute. He was in custody for less than a minute - 37 seconds or something like that.

MCCARTHY: That's right. That's right.

INSKEEP: Now, now, 77 pages of judgment against him, more detail. But does this change the political situation in Pakistan, where the prime minister is not, at this moment anyway, heeding calls that he should resign?

MCCARTHY: He's not heeding calls that he should resign, and he's not likely to heed them, even after this very stern ruling. And why is that, Steve? Because the court really avoids the question of whether or not the prime minister should be disqualified from office. They walk back that whole issue. But they do say, you know, Mr. Prime Minister, you knew the entire disqualification from office was in play dating back to an order issue in January. And the court said you were on notice that any conviction would likely, quote, "entail some serious consequences." And the language the court uses suggests that it meant to link the conviction with disqualification.

But it makes it only a possibility, Steve, not a certainty. So, the whole thing gets kicked into Parliament. Did the court punt, or did the court look for the most constitutionally sound route? That will be debated in the weeks ahead.

INSKEEP: What a difficult situation for Pakistan, though. Let's remember, this is a country that's had repeated military coups. They finally got a civilian government, which is very unpopular, but people wanted to finish its term. And was the Supreme Court in a situation where, even though they feel that this guy is defied them and defied the law, that they don't want to be seen as removing him from office? They don't there to be in effect a judicial coup.

MCCARTHY: That's exactly right. I mean, everybody here always worries about, you know, a coup by the army, a coup by the military. But there a sense that this court is very active, an activist court. In fact, it's been called - it's been described as a court on populist overdrive. And this is something that the government and the prime minister have really nursed, that sense that they're the victims in an overzealous court. And the court, I think, in this decision - and certainly the short decision, as well as this long one - by not reaching that issue of disqualification and saying, no, this is a purview of the legislature, this maybe even the purview of fresh elections, but we are not here to decide whether or not you are disqualified from office. Others may determine that, we can point the way - they've certainly kicked the door open - but they are not firmly standing by any sort of disqualification of the prime minister today with this judgment.

INSKEEP: So, very briefly, this giant controversy goes on, this distraction goes on, in a moment when there are a lot of other problems in Pakistan. What is the political opposition to the prime minister doing about all this?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, they don't have the votes for a no-confidence vote. They're trying to get people out into the streets, but they - and they started to draw people. But there's really no bold action, no en mass resignation from Parliament that could generate fresh elections. They're afraid of causing instability...


MCCARTHY: ...and bringing in the army. So, they come across as calculating and happy to buy their time until fresh elections, which may not come until next year.

INSKEEP: OK, Julie, always a pleasure to talk with you.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy, in Islamabad, where the Supreme Court has now issued a 77-page ruling against the country's prime minister, who for now at least, remains in office.


INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.