ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s increasingly assertive Supreme Court declared Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ineligible for office on Tuesday, plunging the country into fresh turmoil as it deals with Islamic militancy, a weak economy and a crisis in relations with the United States.
However, there seems to be no immediate threat to the stability of the government since the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has a comfortable majority in parliament.
But the move is bound to sharply 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.
In April, the Supreme Court found Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
“Yusuf Raza Gilani stands disqualified as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament),” said Chaudhry in a packed courtroom. “He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan … the office of the prime minister stands vacant.”
Fawad Chaudhry, a senior Gilani aide, said only parliament could dismiss the prime minister, a view shared by analysts.
However, within hours of the Supreme Court decision, state television reported that the Election Commission of Pakistan had issued the official notification of Gilani’s disqualification. The ruling can be challenged.
While the decision is a big blow to the PPP, it is unlikely to lead to the fall of the unpopular government.
The U.S. State Department described the court decision as an internal affair, but said it expected discussions with Pakistan aimed at repairing deeply strained ties would continue.
The PPP and its coalition partners have the numbers in parliament to elect a new prime minister until the government’s term ends early next year when a general election is due.
Turmoil in Pakistan after prime minister dismissed
Wed, 20 Jun 2012 11:18a.m.
..The ruling was a major escalation in a long-running confrontation between the judges and the government. Supporters of the government, and some independent commentators, accuse the court of pursuing a vendetta against Zardari that threatens the country’s nascent democracy. Zardari’s critics, on the other hand, say the court is the only institution standing up against the rampant graft – and ineptitude – in his administration.
One possibility was that Gilani and Zardari might try to defy the court order. That could spark institutional deadlock and social unrest. It even raises the possibility of the army staging a coup, as it has done three times in the country’s history, or being asked by the court to implement its order.
Yasin Azad, president of the..