Pakistan's Prime Minister Disqualified By Top Court

PHOTO: Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani arrives at the Supreme Court in Islamabad in this Feb. 13, 2012 file photo.Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani arrives at the Supreme Court in Islamabad in this Feb. 13, 2012 file photo.

In a huge blow to the country's ruling party, Pakistan's Supreme Court disqualified the country's prime minister from holding office today after finding him in contempt of court earlier in the year.

"Yousuf Raza Gilani is disqualified from membership of parliament from April 26, the date of his conviction," said Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

"He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan," the chief justice stated.

The ruling stems from an earlier verdict that found Gilani guilty of contempt for refusing to reopen a corruption investigation into the activities of the country's president, Asif Ali Zardari, who Gilani considers a friend and mentor.

At the time, Gilani stated that he would not reopen the investigation because Pakistan's laws protect the country's president from prosecution. The Supreme Court disagreed, and found him in contempt in April, a move that set off a battle between the country's judiciary and its parliament, culminating in today's dismissal.

The Supreme Court has now called on Zardari to convene a parliamentary election for Gilani's replacement. Parliament will now be called into session, where the ruling People's Party of Pakistan, or PPP, is expected to nominate his successor.

The ruling comes as a big test of Pakistan's democratic system. Critics worry that the latest political turmoil could throw the nuclear-armed nation into a full-fledged crisis, forcing the military to intervene, as it has in the past. Pakistan has seen three military coups in its short history.

This time is expected to be different. Military sources say the country's top commander, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has no intention to interfere and will allow the democratic process to run its course.

Others question the timing of today's ruling. Chaudhary's own son has been making headlines, after allegations surfaced that he received money from a prominent Pakistani real estate tycoon in exchange for levying influence over several top officials, including his father. The charges have not been proven in court, but have occupied headlines in Pakistani media for days.