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Political Crisis a Blow to Pakistan's Government

Policemen keep guard outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad June 19, 2012.

Policemen keep guard outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad June 19, 2012.

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan is in a political crisis as the government's ruling political party and coalition partners try to find a solution to the Supreme Court's ouster of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The current standoff pits the civil government against the judiciary.

President Asif Ali Zardari has summoned parliament to meet on Friday to elect a new prime minister.

The country's leading opposition PTI party is declaring the court's decision to disqualify Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani from office a victory for justice. Gilani had refused a Supreme Court order to ask Swiss authorities to investigate claims of corruption against Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan Corruption Timeline

  • Pakistan's Supreme Court and the prime minister's office have had an ongoing battle over the status of corruption cases since the 1990s
  • Prosecutors accuse President Zardari and his late wife, former PM Benazir Bhutto and others of laundering millions of dollars through Swiss bank accounts. Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in 2007
  • Charges against Zardari and others were dropped after a 2007 amnesty agreement. The court struck down the deal in 2009 and has been battling to reopen the cases
  • Former PM Gilani had refused to cooperate, arguing that the president has legal immunity while in office and that reopening the cases would be unconstitutional.
Political analyst Rasul Baksh Rais says the ruling was a bold stand by the judiciary in a country where politicians are rarely held accountable. But he says the confrontation comes at a cost.

"Pakistan is in a constitutional limbo today and in a state of uncertainty and we don't know in which way Pakistan is going to move," said Rais.

The political vacuum comes as the Pakistan People's Party-led government is being battered by accusations of corruption, violent protests at the lack of electricity and militant attacks in the northwest.

On Wednesday, the PTI party raised the political stakes, calling for new elections. Party spokeswoman Shireen Mazari said PTI leader Imran Khan and his followers will now take to the streets to force the government to meet its demand.

"They've lost the mandate," said Mazari. "And you know, with the problems they haven't delivered, and you've seen the demonstrations, the violence. There is a total collapse of governance."

Opinion on the street is divided. Yasmin Khalif, shopping in one of Islamabad's markets, says the Supreme Court's decision was politically motivated, aimed at bringing down the nation's civilian government.

"They don't want any government to be stable here in Pakistan," said Khalif.

But student Ahmed Afridi welcomed Prime Minister Gilani's removal.

"The people will understand there is someone above the government, the ruling class, but also it could be used, because if there is a Chief Justice and he has ill feeling towards a prime minister or a president, he could get them removed every time," said Afridi.

Imtiaz Gul of the Center for Research and Security Studies cautions the crisis is not going to end with the appointment of a new prime minister if President Zardari is not forced to answer to corruption allegations.

"I think the future of democracy lies in the balance and it all depends on the political parties, particularly the lead party, as to how it adjusts itself to the new realities, the dictates of the rule of law, and to requirements as put forth by the supreme court," said Gul.

President Zardari is expected to put forward a new candidate for parliament's approval on Friday. Because his ruling Pakistan People's Party and its coalition partners have a majority in parliament, his choice is likely to be elected.

However, there are fears that if the crisis is not handled smoothly, and politicians continue to defy Supreme Court decisions, the situation could reach a breaking point where the court will appeal to Pakistan's military to step in, as it has before.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.