Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was on Thursday convicted by the Supreme Court for contempt over his refusal to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and was given a symbolic sentence that lasted 30 seconds threatening his continuance in office.
"For reasons to be recorded later, the Prime Minister is found guilty of contempt for wilfully flouting the direction of the Supreme Court," Justice Nasirul Mulk, who headed the seven-judge bench said as he sentenced Gilani "till the rising of the court", sparing him a jail term.
Gilani`s conviction in a court of law means there are now grounds to initiate dismissal proceedings.
However, the Speaker of the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament will have 30 days to decide on such a move and the Election Commission a further 90 days effectively meaning that the premier can remain in office for four more months.
His lawyer said Gilani would appeal, further delaying any action against him in a case that has its roots in a Supreme Court decision in 2009.
The entire proceedings in the courtroom number 4 lasted less than 10 minutes. The judges left the court immediately after announcing the verdict, effectively ending Gilani`s sentence.
Emerging from the heavily guarded court, Gilani told the media: "We had sought justice. The decision was not appropriate".
A visibly dejected Prime Minister, accompanied by his sons, shook hands with his team and members of the federal cabinet after hearing the verdict.
Attorney General Irfan Qadir described the verdict as "unconstitutional and unlawful".
The Premier remained standing for 30 seconds after the announcement of the judgement.
Thursday`s hearing had been widely anticipated by opponents of Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, who were hoping the Supreme Court would sentence the Prime Minister to prison and order his immediate dismissal from office. That would have triggered a major political crisis, brought criticism on the court and could have benefited Gilani and Zardari electorally by making them martyrs in the eyes of their supporters.
Elections are scheduled for later this year or early next, meaning the government could possibly last out its term with Gilani still in charge. That is a feat in itself in a country with a history of repeated coups and judicial machinations against elected governments.
Gilani is the longest-serving prime minister in the history of Pakistan, where civilian governments have repeatedly been toppled by the country`s powerful military, often with the support of the Supreme Court, which critics allege is heavily politicised. Corruption charges have routinely been used to target those in power, or seeking to return.
(With Agencies’ inputs)