Pakistan Top Court Disqualifies PM from Office

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 12:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistan's highest court has declared Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani ineligible for office, throwing the country into a new round of political turmoil.

On April 26, the Supreme Court found Mr. Gilani guilty of contempt for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen their corruption investigation into President Asif Ali Zardari. 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.

A senior Gilani aide responded to the news by saying only parliament could dismiss the prime minister, not the court. But 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.

Late Tuesday, Mr. Zardari held emergency talks with top leaders of his ruling Pakistan People's Party.

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 tells VOA the country can avoid a political crisis if the president and parliament moves quickly. He says the present government enjoys a strong majority in the national assembly, so it could elect a new prime minister as early as Wednesday.

However, these developments hit Mr. Zardari's government as it is struggling with a weak economy and violent protests against power blackouts.

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