Pakistan court challenges president's dual offices

[JURIST] Pakistan's Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday ordered the principal secretary for President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] principle secretary to appear before the court in order to explain how Zardari is able to effectively serve as president while also leading the country's ruling party. The petition was filed [Reuters report] by the Pakistan Lawyers Forum, which agreed with the secretary's representation of Zardari due to security reasons. Zardari's control of these two offices does not violate Pakistan's Constitution [text], but the high court has previously barred officials from holding dual offices. After winning the presidency in September 2008, Zardari continued to serve as chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [official website], which won the plurality of seats in the 2008 election and currently heads the ruling coalition. The principal secretary is set to appear before the court on May 25.

Zardari gained control of the presidency after former military leader Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] resigned amid impeachment pressure. In April, Zardari signed into law [JURIST report] the 18th Amendment bill [text, PDF], limiting presidential powers expanded under Musharraf. Under the amendment, which effectively reduces the role of the president to a figurehead, the vast majority of the president's powers will be transferred [AFP report] to the office of the prime minister [official website]. The introduction of the bill came amid controversy over reopening corruption investigations against Zardari. Weeks earlier, Pakistan's attorney general Anwar Mansoor announced his resignation over controversy surrounding a Supreme Court order to investigate corruption allegations [JURIST reports]. Last month, Swiss authorities denied a request [JURIST report] from Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau [official website], refusing to reopen a corruption investigation against Zardari. Aides to Zardari believe that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution, even after the Supreme Court overturned an amnesty law [JURIST report] implemented by Musharraf.

 

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