Pak`s PPP prepares for showdown with judiciary

Top leaders of Pakistan`s ruling party have held meetings to decide whether the Premier should appear in court on Monday to face a contempt charge.

Islamabad: With a showdown between the government and the judiciary looming, top leaders of Pakistan`s ruling party have held meetings to prepare a strategy for the standoff and to decide whether the Premier should appear in court on Monday to face a contempt charge.

The apex court`s order asking Raja Pervez Ashraf to appear before a five-judge bench was discussed at a meeting of the Pakitan People`s Party`s top leadership chaired last night by Prime Minister Ashraf and President Asif Ali Zardari.

The matter also figured at a meeting on Saturday between Ashraf and Law Minister Farooq H Naek, sources said.

Naek briefed the premier on options available to the government, the sources said.

Both leaders agreed that the government does not want any confrontation with the judiciary and that it would act on any ruling from the apex court while keeping the interests of the people and the country in mind, the sources added.

Though an official statement issued after last night’s meeting made no mention of the case in the apex court, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told the media that a final decision on the premier`s appearance in court will be made after the PPP consults its allies in the ruling coalition.

Zardari is expected to meet leaders of the parties in the PPP-led coalition tomorrow, sources said.

Several top PPP leaders, including former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Attorney General Irfan Qadir have advised Ashraf not to appear in the apex court next week.

Gilani, the vice-chairman of the PPP, has even warned that the party will not accept any unconstitutional move by the apex court against Ashraf.

Ashraf became the premier after the apex court convicted Gilani on contempt and disqualified him for refusing to reopen graft cases against the President in Switzerland.

The court subsequently charged Ashraf with contempt and summoned him to personally appear on August 27 to explain why action should not be taken against him.

Legal experts have said Ashraf faces the possibility of being disqualified like Gilani.

However, Gilani has said that if Ashraf too is dismissed by the apex court, the PPP would not take the verdict "lying down".

He warned: "An unconstitutional verdict will not be accepted....The masses will not accept it. We`ll resist instead of taking the decision lying down."

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against the President since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.

The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

In a related development, Attorney General Irfan Qadir has said that under Article 248 of the Constitution, the premier is not answerable to any court for the exercise of his powers and official functions.

Qadir told reporters yesterday that the court should not have asked the premier to appear before it.

Asked whether the premier would appear in the apex court, Qadir said: "I don`t know about this. This will purely be the decision of the Prime Minister."

Responding to another question on what the court would do if the premier failed to appear, he said, "This question has no sense as it is a hypothetical question. I don`t comment on such questions relying on ifs and buts."

Qadir said the premier`s office was superior to that of the judges and the premier was not accountable to courts.

He further said the Supreme Court could not ask the Prime Minister to write a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases against the President.