Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Pakistan's Top Court Fires Premier, Plunging Politics into Chaos

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Pakistan's Top Court Fires Premier, Plunging Politics into Chaos

Article excerpt

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a tussle between President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the Pakistani political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani's office had been effectively vacant since April 26, when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Chief Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle. "The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time," said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. "Clearly there is a lot of politics in this."

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to "ensure continuation of the democratic process" -- words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said that Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he might continue in an interim role until his successor was chosen.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari's house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court's ruling.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. "It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution," Mr. Sharif said.

The decision should not endanger the government in the short term, provided the Pakistan Peoples Party can retain the support of its coalition partners: smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi and Islamabad. …

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