Turmoil in Pakistan as court rules against PM

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ruled that prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is ineligible for office, plunging the country into fresh turmoil.

However, there seems to be no immediate threat to the stability of the government following the court announcement yesterday, since the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has a comfortable majority in parliament.

But the move is bound to raise tensions between the unpopular civilian government and Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has made a name for himself in recent years by taking on Pakistan’s most powerful figures.

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In April, the court found Mr Gilani guilty of contempt for refusing to reopen corruption investigations involving president Asif Ali Zardari.

“Yusuf Raza Gilani stands disqualified as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora [parliament],” Mr Chaudhry told a packed courtroom yesterday. “He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan… the office of the prime minister stands vacant.”

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior aide to Mr Gilani, said only parliament could dismiss the premier.

During the hearing, Attorney General Irfan Qadir accused the court of behaving unlawfully.

He said the prime minister was not answerable to the court in regard to his professional duties and that justices had violated an article of the constitution in their ruling.

However, within hours of the ruling, state TV reported that the Election Commission had issued the official notification of Mr Gilani’s disqualification. The ruling is subject to challenge.

While the decision is a big blow to the PPP, it is unlikely to lead to the government’s fall.

The PPP and its coalition partners could elect a new prime minister until the government’s term ends early next year.

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“I don’t see this as a major constitutional breakdown unless the PPP ignores this decision,” said legal expert Salman Raja. “They should be able to do that [replace Gilani] fairly easily.”