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Explainer: What's next for Pakistan?

By Reza Sayah and Madison Park, CNN
updated 10:50 PM EDT, Wed June 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was removed from office
  • Gilani's supporter say the ruling was politically motivated
  • Parliament is expected to elect new prime minister Friday

(CNN) -- Pakistan is facing uncertainty after the country's Supreme Court effectively removed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from office.

Hours after the court issued its ruling, Gilani had vacated the sprawling prime minister's residence in Islamabad with his political future in doubt.

Why was he removed?

Pakistan's Supreme Court found Gilani guilty of contempt after he defied a court order. This is the first time a sitting prime minster has been convicted of a crime while holding office in the country.

The contempt charge stems from Gilani's refusal to ask Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption investigation against Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.

The corruption cases that the Supreme Court wanted reopened stem from money-laundering charges against Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A Swiss court convicted them in absentia in 2003 of laundering millions of dollars.

But the Swiss authorities dropped the case, at the request of the Pakistani government under President Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Two years later, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled the amnesty was unconstitutional and called for the cases to be re-opened.

The government has not done so, and the court apparently lost patience. Since Gilani is the head of the government, the court justices view him as responsible.

Pakistan PM convicted of contempt
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Gilani was convicted of contempt on April 26. This week, the Supreme Court declared the prime minister's disqualification was retroactive to that April date.

In the ruling, the court declared that Gilani "has ceased to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan" and that 'the office of the Prime Minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly."

What does this mean for Pakistan?

CNN's Reza Sayah says the departure of the prime minister wouldn't have a seismic effect on the nation's stability and political system because the country's civilian government is dominated by the Pakistan Peoples Party. A new prime minister would simply be named by Parliament and take the place of Gilani.

Pakistan's president has summoned the lower house of parliament to meet Friday to elect a new prime minister.

How did the ruling party react to the removal of its prime minister?

After the court's ruling, President Zardari postponed a trip to Russia and huddled with the Pakistan Peoples Party senior leaders Tuesday.

In a news conference that aired live on Pakistani TV that evening, federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira acknowledged that Gilani was no longer the prime minister. He called on supporters not to protest the court's ruling and made no mention of plans to challenge the court's ruling. CNN's Sayah reports there have been small pockets of protest against the ruling, but no reports of violence.

What is the "back story?"

Supporters of Gilani and the party say the court's ruling was politically motivated because of bad blood between the Supreme Court's popular chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Zardari.

Chaudhry and the other judges had been removed from the bench in November 2007 by then-President Musharraf

The Pakistan Peoples' Party won the 2008 elections with a promise to reinstate the dismissed judges. The party won the election and re-instated most of the judges, but dragged out the chief justice's reinstatement.

"This was a blow to the party but this was a political decision," said Zardari's advisor Naveed Chaudhry in an interview with CNN. (Naveed Chaudhry is not related to the Chief Justice.) "This was not a legal decision. We have reservations about this decision."

Critics accused the Supreme Court of judicial activism. Some accused the chief justice of using the dramatic ruling to shift focus away from questions about his own credibility. Last week, a billionaire property tycoon made headlines when he publicly claimed to give the chief justice's son millions in an attempt to win favorable decision in several pending legal cases, said Sayah.

How are others reacting to the dismissal?

Critics of the prime minister and the Pakistan People's party, hailed the ruling as a win for democracy and praised the court as an effective government watchdog.

"This is a great day for Pakistan," TV anchor Hamid Mir told CNN. "Gilani was ruling a political party, not the nation. A party is not supreme and I am proud to say I live in a country with a supreme court that can sack even a prime minister if he doesn't obey the law."

Here's what various newspaper editorials said:

The Nation: "Under the circumstances, rather than plunge the country into a chaotic struggle, it would be wise to continue in the democratic transition and install a new Prime Minister and expedite the schedule to general elections.

The International News: "It may be somewhat tragic that, so close to completing his five-year term, Yousuf Raza Gilani decided to pick up a needless confrontation with the supreme judiciary and had to leave office as a convict in a contempt of court case.

"The best course for the country would be a smooth transition, a democratic one, with as little controversy and conflict as possible so that a precedent for political change without upsetting the applecart is set. Extreme restraint and political maturity and vision are needed on the part of all the players."

The Wall Street Journal called the court ruling "the unnatural death of another civilian government." The editorial castigated the chief justice calling him "the man responsible for this constitutional crisis."

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