ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s new prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf defended Saturday President Asif Ali Zardari’s immunity, saying it would end the day after he leaves office.
His comments come after Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the new prime minister two weeks to indicate whether he would ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the president.
The issue has caused removal of Ashraf’s predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani from office as prime minister on June 19 after the court convicted him of contempt in April for refusing to reopen the multi-million-dollar cases.
“He (Asif Ali Zardari) is the democratic elected President of Pakistan and as per law he enjoys the immunity as long as he holds the office,” Ashraf told reporters in the eastern city Lahore.
When the new prime minister was asked what the government’s stance would be at the next Supreme Court hearing on July 12, Ashraf reiterated the presidential immunity.
“All the legal experts have given us the same opinion… So we will see the matter from the same angle,” he said.
Analysts say the latest notice by the Supreme Court indicates the judiciary is unwilling to end a showdown with the government that could force elections before February 2013, when the administration would become the first in Pakistan to complete a full five-year mandate.
The allegations against Zardari date from the 1990s when he and his late wife, ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts.
The Swiss shelved the case in 2008 when Zardari became president.
But in 2009 the Supreme Court overturned a political amnesty that had frozen investigations into the president and other politicians, ordering that the cases be reopened.