ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.
Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.
“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in Bhawalpur, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.
“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said.
“It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”
The Supreme Court last week ordered PM Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.
It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.
Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.
Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”
“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”
Speaking to media representatives before the convocation the Prime Minister reiterated that the decision about military supplies to Nato/Isaf forces through Pakistan would be taken by parliament in its joint session likely to be held on March 19.
The Prime Minister said he was firm on not taking any unconstitutional step.
He said the charges of contempt against him would also undermine the parliament which gives immunity to the country’s President.
Gilani said the top leadership of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) laid down its lives for the people of country.
He said the system was gaining strength as a dividend of democracy; “Had there been no democracy, there would be no free judiciary and much more,” he said.
He said President Asif Ali Zardari would be the first President who will address the joint sitting of the parliament for the fifth time, on March 17 and he had also become the longest serving Prime Minister of the country.
The Prime Minister said he had always stressed that the Parliament must complete its tenure no matter the Prime Minister remains in office or gets replaced by the other.
“The system must continue as it will help strengthen democracy in the country,” he said.
Prime Minister Gilani said he was fully in favour of a separate Bahawalpur province.
He termed the recent uproar relating to the issues of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and memo-gate as conspiracies against the government to put senate elections to halt.
Earlier a high-level meeting was held in the Presidency presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari. It was also attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
“The meeting was briefed on issues relating to security and foreign policy,” president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
According to a senior official, the meeting decided that the Parliamentary Committee on National Security would be fully authorised to take a decision about restoration or otherwise of the supplies for Isaf forces in Afghanistan.
It is learnt that the committee would recommend to the government to secure ‘better’ terms for reopening the supply routes.