Pakistan Prime Minister Ordered Before Court on Graft Probe

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the Prime Minister to appear before judges for failing to seek the reopening of corruption cases against the president, a step toward repeating contempt hearings that ousted his predecessor.

Raja Pervez Ashraf’s decision not to abide by an earlier top court order to request the resumption of graft probes in Switzerland is “very unfortunate,” state-run Pakistan Television cited the nation’s senior-most judges as saying. Ashraf must appear in court on Aug. 27 to explain his actions.

The extended clash between the judiciary and the government is deepening Pakistan’s political crisis with months to go before the next election, scheduled to be held in early 2013. Ashraf’s administration is struggling to revive an economy weighed down by a record power crisis and inflation close to the fastest in Asia.

Today’s court move comes seven weeks after Yousuf Raza Gilani became the country’s first prime minister to be evicted by the courts after his lawyers argued President Asif Ali Zardari had immunity from prosecution in foreign courts while in office, making an approach to Swiss authorities impossible.

“Perhaps we are going to see a replay of what happened to Gilani,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political and military analyst in the eastern city of Lahore. “This impasse is costing the country a lot. You have a government which doesn’t know what will happen to its prime minister.”

In a bid to ward off a prosecution of Ashraf, the governing coalition July 11 pushed legislation through parliament that gave elected officials immunity from prosecution for contempt of court, a law the Supreme Court this month struck down as unconstitutional.

Election Calls

The standoff between judges and the government has brought calls for early polls from major opposition groups, including the Pakistan Muslim League of former premier Nawaz Sharif and ex-cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice.

As the government and judges have fought a four-year battle over appointments to the top court and Zardari’s alleged graft, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs as the nation’s worst energy crisis closed factories and sparked violent protests in big cities.

Pakistan’s credit rating was lowered deeper into junk status on July 14 by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited dwindling currency reserves and political instability.

Democracy Risk

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s actions, along with the reticence of Swiss courts to resume probing Zardari, have led the government to accuse the top judge of being overzealous and risking the country’s democracy in his pursuit of the president, according to analysts including Mutaher Ahmed, a professor of international relations at the University of Karachi.

The ruling coalition, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, is aiming to become the first elected administration in Pakistan’s history to serve a full five-year term.

Negotiating with political parties to stay on as a civilian president, military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007 decreed an amnesty to halt corruption probes against 8,000 politicians and officials, including Zardari and his wife, assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto. Zardari and Bhutto denied the charges.

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