Pakistani prime minister convicted of contempt

Posted April 26, 2012, at 9:06 p.m.

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday of contempt for failing to revive a long-standing graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a ruling that could eventually result in the premier’s ouster and ramp up political tension in an important but troubled U.S. ally.

The court opted not to sentence Gilani to a maximum six months in prison. However, under Pakistani law, a conviction could entail disqualification from the office he has held since 2008.

The verdict comes at a time when the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, stewarded by Zardari and Gilani, is especially vulnerable. As elections approach, the PPP faces a public intensely dissatisfied with its performance on issues such as a stagnant economy and crippling power shortages.

Within hours of the ruling, handed down by a seven-judge panel, opposition leaders called for Gilani’s resignation.

“He should step down without causing further crisis,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the PPP’s archrival party, the PML-N, told a Pakistani television channel. “The prime minister himself invited this situation.”

But members of Gilani’s team suggested the PPP would defend his right to stay in office. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira called the ruling “a very unfortunate day for this country and for democracy,” but saying that the court’s ruling did not explicitly call for Gilani’s disqualification as prime minister.

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