ISLAMABAD – Accompanied by his courtiers, embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will appear in the Supreme Court today to hear the decision in contempt case.

A seven-judge bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk that reserved its judgment on Tuesday will tell Gilani today whether he is guilty of contempt for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The charges carry a maximum jail sentence of six months and conviction could lead to Gilani being disqualified from office. Therefore, senior leadership of the ruling alliance are engaged in active consultations to decide a name for a new prime minister.

The court had asked Gilani’s counsel Aitzaz Ahsan to ensure premier’s presence when the verdict is announced. And the PM on Wednesday vowed to appear in person to face the verdict. “I will appear before the court tomorrow,” Gilani told his cabinet while chairing the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM Secretariat.

“We are satisfied with the input given by our lawyers and we are also satisfied with the input by the Attorney General.” But he did not say whether he would quit if he is convicted. Gilani, who had earlier appeared before the apex court on Jan 19 and Feb 13, said the court has summoned him for the third time and if any other cabinet colleague wishes to accompany him, he was welcome.

Sources said the cabinet members expressed solidarity with the premier and resolved that all members belonging to the ruling PPP and its coalition partners would accompany him to the court. The political leadership of the collation partners of the federal government would also accompany the prime minister during his appearance.

After the meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khurshid Shah briefed the media about decisions of the cabinet. Kaira said the prime minister told them he respects judiciary and would appear before the apex court tomorrow “like an ordinary citizen”. The prime minister told his colleagues he would not avail any privilege while appearing before the seven-member bench and go to the courtroom on foot.

The minister said Gilani told the cabinet that they wanted all institutions to work within the ambit of the constitution and the law, and that “he (Gilani) had no ego problem with the court but it is a matter of protection of the constitution for a unanimously elected prime minister”. PM Gilani pointed out that the procedure for appointment of judges was settled by the parliament through 18th amendment but the government took the opposition and allies on board and got 19th amendment adopted to address reservations of the judiciary. This, he said, was done in the spirit of avoiding clash of institutions despite the fact that the parliament was fully empowered to take any decision. Gilani also pointed out that issue of presidential immunity was settled in the constitution and no political party or parliamentarian objected to it even after SC verdict in NRO case.

To a question the information minister said the PPP hopes to get justice from courts this time and the verdict would hopefully be in its favour. He, however, said they would proceed as per dictates of the law. Kaira said Law Minister Farooq H Naek also gave briefing to the cabinet regarding the contempt of court case.

The minister said some cabinet members expressed their views on the issue. They held the president is a symbol of the federation and commander of the armed forces and enjoys immunity under domestic and international law. Kaira regretted that on the one hand “we are strongly advocating for respect to our sovereignty by the US and Nato while on the other hand we want to throw our democratically elected president before a foreign magistrate… Similarly, on one side we want to bring Dr Afia Siddique back in the country and also did not want to hand over Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed Ahmed to US or India while on the other side (we are) talking about surrendering the president before a foreign magistrate.”

Kaira said the prime minister has also convened a special cabinet meeting in Islamabad after the court proceedings. “The chief ministers of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit-Balitistan (GB) and governors of all the four provinces as well as GB have also been invited to discuss future course of action of the federal government in the light of Supreme Court decision.“ Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has not been invited to the special meeting, he added. According to PM House, the president and prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir would also be the special invitees in this extraordinary session of the cabinet.

Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Khan Ghouri (of MQM) told the media on Wednesday said Muttahida Qaumi Movement members would accompany Prime Minister Gilani to the court. “Being members of cabinet and being partners in the government we will accompany the prime minister to Supreme Court.“

The minister said that the prime minister respected the court and the MQM also did so. He said it would be premature to speculate about change of the prime minister. However, reports from Karachi and capital Islamabad suggested the leadership of the ruling alliance had started the process of looking for a new premier.

Reliable party sources said President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also PPP co-chairperson, has decided to cut short his Karachi visit in view of possible disqualification of Gilani by the court. Zardari has also contacted coalition partners in this regard.

Federal ministers Asim Hussain (petroleum), Khursheed Shah (religious affairs), Ch Ahmed Mukhtar (defence) and Minister Samina Khalid Ghurki (national heritage and integration) are strong contenders for the slot of premiership. However names of federal ministers Makhdoom Shahabuddin (textile industry), Hina Rabbani Khar (foreign affairs) and Firdous Aashiq Awan (regulation and services) are also under consideration.

Sources also said in case the SC disqualifies the PM then PPP leadership would boost up their political activities and spread their wings to Punjab as well. There is a possibility that Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa would be replaced with a new governor. The party intends to use the PM disqualification card to increase their vote ban for the next general elections, they said.