Pakistan PM Ousted by Supreme Court

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 4:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistan's highest court on Tuesday declared Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ineligible for office, throwing the country into fresh political uncertainty as it battles Islamic militancy and deals with a weak economy and deteriorating ties with the United States.

The Supreme Court based its decision on an April 26 ruling that found Mr. Gilani in contempt of court for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen their corruption investigation into President Asif Ali Zardari. But the prime minister had refused to step down.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ruled Tuesday that because Mr. Gilani had not appealed that conviction, he is disqualified as a member of parliament and no longer prime minister. According to Pakistani law, a person who has a prior conviction cannot serve in parliament.

The court has instructed President Zardari to take steps for the election of a new prime minister. Under the constitution, he must summon a joint session of parliament to elect the new leader.

Mr. Zardari held emergency talks with top leaders of his ruling Pakistan People's Party and coalition partners to discuss how to deal with the situation.

Tuesday's ruling came as the political upheaval is hitting a government already struggling with Islamic militancy, a weak economy and violent protests against crippling power blackouts.

Islamabad also is at odds with Washington over whether to reopen its territory to NATO supply convoys for coalition troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the routes after a NATO airstrike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border last November.

PPP central leader Qamruz Zaman Kaira says the party has reservations about the verdict, and if the prime minister has been removed, then the Cabinet also is removed.

Pakistan's former law minister S.M. Zafar told VOA the country can avoid a political crisis if the president and parliament move quickly. He said the present government enjoys a strong majority in the national assembly, so it could elect a new prime minister as early as Wednesday.

Mr. Gilani says the legal actions against him are politically motivated.