Extending the political crisis that has churned up a media frenzy and put the nation on edge, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has given the Prime Minister ten more days to answer contempt of court charges
Prime Minister Yusef Reza Gilani drove himself to the imposing Supreme Court building framed by stormy skies this morning. Facing contempt charges, he stood in the well of the packed court and defended his refusal to re-open a graft case against his boss, President Zardari.
The appearance was unusual even by the standards of Pakistan where the courts are frequently the stage for high-stakes political drama.
The prime minister’s counsel faced a barrage of questions about why the government has ignored a court order that could revive money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Gilani argued that the president has complete immunity from criminal prosecution and that the court order conflicted with that immunity.
In the end, the court ruled that it will take up the question of presidential immunity when the case reconvenes Feb. 1. At that point, the government will formally explain – for the first time before the court— why Zardari has immunity. Justices on Pakistan’s increasingly independent bench asked why the immunity argument had not been lodged earlier with the Court, which had issued its order two years ago. The justices could end up ruling against the Prime Minister’s conclusions, but they were heartened to see him comply with their order to show up. One justice called it “a great day” for Pakistan.
(NPR’s Julie McCarthy reported from Islamabad.)