Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In an unprecedented ruling, Pakistan's Supreme Court could throw Pakistan into a political and institutional turmoil. Pakistan's top court has in fact disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, two months after convicting him of contempt of court for failing to pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. It is unclear whether the prime minister and the ruling Pakistan People's party (PPP) will fight to keep Gilani in office.
The Supreme Court ruled that Gilani has "ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan". In fact, "Since no appeal was filed" against the 26 April conviction, "Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani stands disqualified as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora [parliament]," Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said. "He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan [. . .] the Office of the Prime Minister stands vacant."
Many however find the court's decision illegitimate because the prime minister is not accountable for his actions to the judges.
Currently, the cabinet is holding an emergency meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Gilani, President Zardari, top cabinet ministers and PPP officials.
The ruling party still has the numbers in the National Assembly to pick a successor and stay in power until the end of the current legislature next year.
However, political uncertainty hangs over an atmosphere of open confrontation between branches of government, especially between the executive and the judiciary, behind which some see the country's real power broker, the military.
The charges against President Zardari date back to the 1990s when his late wife Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. He was accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder bribe money. Prime Minister Gilani refused to reopen the case, saying that to do so would be unconstitutional.
President Zardari has always insisted the charges against him were politically motivated.
Two months ago, the judges sentenced the prime minister to a symbolic jail term of a few minutes in the courtroom, even though he could have received up to six months and be banned from public office.
Gilani is the first Pakistani prime minister to be convicted by a court of law.
The confrontation between levels of government could overshadow the country's priorities: economic development, corruption, Islamic fundamentalism and education.
The court's decision puts Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry back at the centre of Pakistan's turbulent political stage.
A few years ago, Chaudhry had a major run-in with former President Pervez Musharraf. Since then he has worked behind the scenes in to gain more power and prestige.