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NA session likely to ratify ordinance

July 01, 2012

ISLAMABAD, July 1: The government is considering an option of convening a session of the National Assembly to approve a presidential ordinance issued on June 24 to provide legal cover to all decisions taken by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his cabinet between April 26 and June 19.

On June 19, the Supreme Court disqualified Mr Gilani and declared the office of prime minister unoccupied since April 26 when he was convicted in a contempt of court case and handed down a symbolic punishment of about 30 seconds.

“Once in session the house can take up anything under the sun for discussion, but at the moment the main objective behind convening an unscheduled session of the National Assembly is to pass the presidential ordinance,” sources said when asked if the government intended to use the legislature for rhetoric against judiciary.

The day the Supreme Court sent prime minister Gilani home, PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) decided to take the court ruling to the National Assembly for discussion. The party’s leaders said they reserved the right to go for a thorough discussion on possible repercussions of the court decision.

The sources said some elements in the party had argued that actions of the former prime minister should be indemnified before July 12 when Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf will submit his response in the NRO judgment implementation case to the court.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the presidency was yet to receive a summary from the law and parliamentary affairs division for convening a session of the National Assembly.

The Director General (Media) of the National Assembly, Anjum Mughal, was also unaware of any such move.

According to the schedule for the fifth parliamentary year, the assembly is due to meet on July 30.

Unlike the past when a president could issue and re-issue an ordinance as many times as he liked, after the 18th Amendment a presidential ordinance can only be issued for 120 days. Afterwards, in case the president wants to re-promulgate it, he needs to get a resolution adopted by either house of parliament for the purpose. An ordinance not re-promulgated or not adopted as a bill lapses after 120 days.

Throughout last week, the media was rife with reports about government’s plan to take some action before the Supreme Court sends another PPP prime minister home for not writing a letter to Swiss courts for reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

But government leaders, including Prime Minister Ashraf and Law Minister Farooq H. Naek, vehemently denied that any such move was being planned.

There were reports of proposals being discussed to change the law to protect the offices of president and prime minister from court proceedings on charges of contempt.

According to one report, the government intends to set up a separate constitutional court as agreed in the Charter of Democracy to deal with issues such as presidential immunity which at the moment appears to be the bone of contention between the government and the superior judiciary.

Former prime minister Gilani refused to write the letter citing Article 248 of the Constitution which provides complete immunity to the sitting head of the state against court cases.

So intense was a hype about an impending clash between the judiciary and executive that on June 28 Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had to rope in the law minister for a briefing arranged for heads of foreign diplomatic missions about the future of the government. The briefing was held to allay fears of diplomats of a perceived confrontation between the judiciary and executives and the latter’s alleged plans to undermine powers of the apex court.