Pakistan turmoil expected after PM's contempt appeal rejected

Fri Feb 10, 2012 6:42am EST
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By Qasim Nauman

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected the prime minister's appeal against a summons in a contempt case on Friday and is set to charge him on Monday, a move likely to bring fresh political turmoil to the chronically unstable country.

If convicted, Yusuf Raza Gilani could be forced to step down and face up to six months in jail. The case, which has raised tension between Pakistan's civilian leaders and the Supreme Court, could drag on and paralyze decision-making.

"The appeal is dismissed," Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said in court, reading the decision of the eight-member bench.

If Gilani is removed, it does not necessarily mean the government will fall as the ruling coalition has the numbers in parliament to elect a replacement.

But a protracted court battle could weaken the administration and damage the ruling Pakistan People's Party's chances in the next general election expected by 2013.

Political instability and brinksmanship often distract Pakistani leaders from a staggering number of challenges -- from a Taliban insurgency to rampant poverty.

Analysts have expressed concern about a possible balance of payments crisis in Pakistan amid a growing current account deficit, which is likely to worsen in coming months as repayments on IMF loans begin in February.

While Pakistanis have grown accustomed to hostility between civilian leaders and generals, the Supreme Court has increasingly asserted itself over the last few years, making the political landscape more combustible.   Continued...

<p>A paramilitary soldier keeps guard outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood</p>