`Zardari has 3 more PM candidates ready if Ashraf is sacked`

The ruling Pakistan People`s Party will not go in for a caretaker set-up if the Supreme Court removes Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

Islamabad: The ruling Pakistan People`s Party will not go in for a caretaker set-up if the Supreme Court removes Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, like his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani, for not reopening graft cases against the President, a media report said on Friday.

"The government will not go for announcing a caretaker set-up for the next general elections even if Prime Minister Ashraf is removed by the apex court," a senior unnamed PPP leader was quoted as saying by The Dawn.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the situation was vague at the moment and it was not easy to comment on "ifs and buts".

He ruled out the possibility of early elections and a caretaker set-up. "We have so far not even thought about a caretaker set-up," Kaira said.

Yesterday, the apex court gave the premier time till July 25 to approach Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the chief of the PPP.

The court had earlier convicted former premier Gilani of contempt and disqualified him after he refused to revive the corruption cases.

Sources in the PPP told The Dawn that President Zardari and heads of parties in the ruling coalition discussed the situation after the Supreme Court`s decision setting July 25 as the deadline for the Prime Minister to reopen the graft cases.

Information Minister Kaira said the PPP is holding consultations with parties in the ruling coalition to frame a line of action in the wake of the Supreme Court`s decision.

The Prime Minister`s spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, said the government would appeal against the apex court`s order.

The ruling coalition had also decided that the government will not write to Swiss authorities even if Prime Minister Ashraf is removed like Gilani.

A source quoted Zardari as saying: "I have three more candidates for the Prime Minister`s office if Raja Pervez Ashraf is removed".

The PPP-led coalition is hopeful that Ashraf will continue to serve as head of the government for three or four months even if the contempt of court law is revoked.

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen the cases since December 2009, when it annulled a graft amnesty issued by former President Pervez Musharraf that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.

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

The President yesterday signed into law the Contempt of Court Bill of 2012 after it was adopted by both houses of Parliament.

The law is aimed at protecting top government functionaries from contempt proceedings and countering the Supreme Court`s efforts to pressure the premier to reopen the graft cases in Switzerland.

PML-Q spokesman Kamil Ali Agha said his party believed both the judiciary and the government should exercise restraint. Otherwise, the whole system will be derailed, he said.

Agha too said the government did not intend to go in for a caretaker set-up even if the current premier had to leave his office.

Legal experts believe the new contempt of court law cannot be revoked before July 25, when the apex court can take action against the premier.

"I think it will not be so easy for the court to revoke the new law in 13 days," Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood said.

He said the law is likely to continue to exist till July 25 and it would be difficult for the apex court to remove Prime Minister Ashraf.