Pakistan plunged into fresh political uncertainty on Tuesday when the Supreme Court disqualified Yusuf Raza Gilani as Prime Minister in the wake of his conviction for contempt in April.
The decision is unlikely to topple the Pakistan People’s Party government but places additional pressures on a weak democracy that is fighting battles on several fronts.
The PPP, which continues to enjoy a majority in the National Assembly with its coalition partners, announced it would consult allies and its legislators to finalise a replacement for Mr. Gilani.
The disqualification brought into sharp focus the clash between the judiciary and the government that began in 2009 when the Supreme Court annulled an amnesty on corruption cases granted by the previous Musharraf regime. President Asif Ali Zardari was the most important beneficiary of the amnesty.
Mr. Gilani was convicted for refusing to obey the court’s order to reopen the cases against Mr. Zardari.
The PPP was quick to announce that it would respect the order of the court. Within hours of the verdict, the Election Commission issued a notification disqualifying Mr. Gilani from Parliament.
In the short order, the three-judge Bench — presided over by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry — also said the President was required to take necessary steps under the Constitution to ensure continuation of the democratic process through the parliamentary system of government.
The verdict was pronounced in the afternoon after lawyers concluded their arguments earlier in the day on a slew of appeals filed against the National Assembly Speaker’s decision to not disqualify Mr. Gilani despite his conviction.
While PPP detractors — principally the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, who were among the petitioners — rejoiced, diehard advocates of democracy termed the verdict a “judicial coup.”
Though a number of names were in circulation about who would succeed Mr. Gilani, indications were that a decision would be taken only after consulting coalition partners.
The party's main spokesman, Qamar Zaman Kaira, said it had reservations about the verdict, but had urged workers across the country to stop demonstrations and protests against the court order. He said it was not in the PPP’s nature to destroy property for political ends.
Mr. Gilani’s ouster has come in the final year of the government's term.