The Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Wednesday,signaling what appeared to be a rerun of judicial proceedings that saw his predecessor ousted from office in June.
A five-member Bench ordered Ashraf to appear before the court on August 27 to explain why his government had refused to revive a corruption investigation into President Asif Ali Zardaris finances in Switzerland.
The order was identical to one issued against the previous prime minister,Yousaf Raza Gilani,who was fired by the court on June 19.
The move Wednesday was the latest twist in an eight-month battle between the Supreme Court and Zardaris government. Senior lawyers said Ashraf was now likely to be charged with contempt of court,opening the way for his ouster from office as early as next month.
It is a step in the same direction, said Salman Akram Raja,a Supreme Court lawyer. The court has to follow the same course. There is nothing else it can do.
Analysts said Ashrafs dismissal would be unlikely to topple Zardaris government,which enjoys a majority in Parliament,but would trigger fresh political turmoil that might move up elections,which are to take place by June 2013. The court wants the government to write to the Swiss authorities,prompting them to reopen a long-dormant investigation into Zardaris finances dating to the 1990s. Officials from the governing party maintain that Zardari,as head of state,enjoys immunity from prosecution.
At the heart of the argument is a bitter three-year-old rivalry between Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The notice issued Wednesday orders Ashraf,a former minster for water and power,to explain why he should not be charged with contempt a formality that usually precedes formal charges.