The National Assembly of Pakistan [official website] on Monday approved a bill that would shield senior officials from contempt of court proceedings. The move by the lower house of the country's parliament is seen as an attempt to exempt the new prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] from a possible upcoming contempt of court proceeding for failure to reopen the investigation against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. Upon passing the bill, some have criticized the new legislation because it has no other purpose other than protecting the new prime minister. Others, including Ashraf, argued that the new bill neither strips away the power of the judiciary nor interferes with anyone pursuing their responsibilities. Rather, the bill aids in clarifying the confusion underlying the power of the country's Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] had ordered [JURIST report] the new prime minister in late June to investigate into the corruption allegations against the president. Ashraf has argued that president is immune from prosecution under the country's constitution. The court in response claimed that no one is above the law and thus, the investigation against the president should proceed. It gave the prime minister until Thursday to act on its order. The bill is expected to be presented to the Senate [official website], the upper house of the parliament, before the president signs it.
The country's judiciary has been in conflict with the executive branch since political leaders have rejected the court's order to investigate into the president's alleged corruption practices. In June a Pakistani court ordered [JURIST report] the arrest of Makhdoom Shahabuddin [BBC profile], a former health minister from Punjab Province and the nominee for the country's then-vacant prime minister position for allegations that he was involved in irregularities in the amount of the controlled drug Ephedrine circulating within the country during his tenure as health minister. The arrest order was issued the same day the president nominated Shahabuddin to fill the position of former prime minister Gilani who was disqualified two days earlier from being a member of Parliament since his April contempt conviction [JURIST reports]. He was convicted of contempt because he refused to open an investigation against the president.