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PPP bracing itself for new battle of nerves

June 27, 2012

ISLAMABAD, June 27: As soon as the Supreme Court set July 12 as the next hearing date for the NRO judgment implementation case on Wednesday morning, alarms bells were set off in the Prime Minister Secretariat.

Soon after the date was announced by the judges, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf called Attorney General Irfan Qadir and Minister for Law Farooq H. Naek to his office and held a detailed meeting to discuss the possible response from his side. Later in the evening, Mr Ashraf had a second one-to-one meeting with Mr Naek, sources at the PM Secretariat told Dawn.

The new prime minister has been asked by the three-member bench hearing the case to update the court on the status of its judgment on the NRO; whether his government intends to write letter to the Swiss authorities or would it follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Mr Gilani preferred to lose his job and his seat in the National Assembly to writing the letter to the Swiss judicial authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the Pakistan People’s Party’s co-chairman.

According to a PPP leader, among the options the legal team of the new prime minister was mulling over was the idea of changing the law of contempt to provide immunity to both the offices of the president and prime minister. Another was to simply repeal the law of contempt. According to experts, Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 is the law that the government may have in mind.

The PPP-led coalition enjoys simple majority in the National Assembly required to change laws.

“Both these options will be presented before the top leadership of the party in the coming days which will then make the final decision,” added the PPP source. However, it is too early to predict how feasible these options are.

Former PML-Q senator and Supreme Court lawyer S. M. Zafar said it would be unwise on the part of law minister to suggest such a move to the government. He said the Constitution covered the contempt of court which the apex court would use to its advantage if the government tried to repeal the law.

Anther lawyer, Barrister Zafarullah Khan, also felt that the PPP would fail if it tried to repeal or change the law of contempt. He pointed out that by disqualifying former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Supreme Court had already decided the NRO judgment implementation case. Hence, he argued, the same precedent would be followed in the case of the new prime minister.

This is why, legal experts argued, the court could act to strike down the amendments or more in case the PPP brought these about. However, it is not clear if the PPP has more options in mind.

According to an official press release, Law Minister Farooq Naek called on Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf at the Prime Minister’s House and discussed with him the political situation and parliamentary affairs with a view to further strengthening the working of democratic institutions.

The law minister also briefed the prime minister about his interaction with Baloch leaders.