ISLAMABAD - All eyes are on the Supreme Court as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appears today before the court for framing of formal charges against him in the contempt of court case.

The apex court on Feb 10 rejected Gilani’s intra-court appeal seeking stoppage of proceedings initiated against him over his refusal to write to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and others.

Gilani was directed to appear in person on Feb 13 (today) to be formally charged for defying court orders, and his lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan says the prime minister will appear before the SC larger bench.

Prime Minister Gilani is third in the row, following former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, facing the contempt of court case. Legal experts are of the opinion that if found guilty of court contempt, the prime minister can face prison and disqualification from his office, besides losing his parliamentary seat and a five-year ban on holding any public office.

Gilani has so far refused to write to the Swiss authorities for reopening the $60 million money laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari, late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her mother late Begum Nusrat Bhutto. He has argued that the only survivor of the three, President Zardari, enjoys immunity under the constitution as head of state.

The ruling PPP claims the corruption charges are politically motivated. But the Supreme Court is not impressed; and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, who had dismissed Gilani’s review appeal on Friday, observed that “the court can go to any extent to implement its verdict”. Despite the court’s orders and mounting pressure by the opposition parties to respect these orders, the government is reluctant to write to the Swiss.

The prime minister has two options: one, he seeks unconditional apology from the court for non-compliance of orders and expresses his willingness to write the letter to the Swiss authorities; two, he sticks to the stance that Zardari enjoys immunity.

However, there is greater possibility that Prime Minister Gilani would opt for the second course. He had reportedly indicated in his interview with Al Jazeera TV channel that if convicted he would resign. However, the Prime Minister’s House in a clarification said there was no question of his resignation as the PM would automatically stand disqualified if convicted.

In the event of his refusal to write the letter, Gilani would face the proceedings until conviction that could land him in prison for at least six months. But President Zardari, who is also Co-Chairman of the ruling PPP, could exercise his powers as President of Pakistan to pardon the prime minister.

A special meeting of the PPP core committee and its ruling allies is slated for late tonight to evolve strategy to tackle the situation. Sources in the PPP-led ruling alliance told The Nation that senior federal minister Ch Parvez Elahi would be elevated to as deputy prime minister as long as the ruling alliance decides to elect new leader of the House.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court administration has taken a number of security measures ahead of the hearing of the NRO implementation case, fixed before a seven-member bench, in which Prime Minister Gilani will appear for the second time. According to a statement of the Registrar’s Office, steps have been taken for proper court decorum and smooth functioning of the bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk, on the NRO implementation case.

Special security cameras have been installed in the courtrooms, at public entry gates and reception areas of the court. In view of limited seating capacity in the courtroom, entry is to be regulated through special security passes to allow access to all relevant persons in order of priority. Passes would be issued to the parties to the case and counsels appearing before the court. The office of additional registrar, Supreme Court, would issue the passes. Entry into court building would be allowed after checking/frisking and searching of bags/purses etc. No mobile phones would be allowed inside the courtroom.