For the second time in a month, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was ordered by the Supreme Court on Thursday to appear before it to be charged with contempt for repeatedly refusing to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Addressing the National Assembly later in the evening, Mr. Gilani said he would appear before the court on the designated date — February 13 — while reiterating the supremacy of Parliament provided in the Constitution. Earlier, after the court directive, he had convened a meeting of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to discuss the situation.

The apex court's decision came just as the beleagured PPP-led government had begun to breath easy on the memo scandal case — where the Supreme Court had given it some reprieve — and triggered a fresh round of speculation about a possible clash between institutions. If convicted, the Prime Minister faces imprisonment and loss of office.

Contempt proceedings had been initiated against him in mid-January after which Mr. Gilani had appeared in Court on January 19. After that hearing, the court had exempted him from personal appearance but on Thursday the bench decided that prima facie he had committed contempt of court and, therefore, should appear before it to be formally charged.

Claim of immunity

Mr. Gilani has been hauled up for contempt because the government had failed to write to the Swiss authorities asking them to reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, maintained in the court that the Premier had not committed any contempt as he had been advised by officials that it was pointless writing to the Swiss authorities as there were no cases pending against the President there.

Mr. Ahsan also sought to point out that Mr. Zardari enjoyed presidential immunity at home and overseas as long as he was the head of state. But, the court's contention has been that the government should have written to the Swiss authorities first before invoking presidential immunity.

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