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Pakistan Supreme Court rejects prime minister's appeal. What's the next step?

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Anjum Naveed/AP

(Read caption) A Pakistan paramilitary soldier and women police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan, last week. The Supreme Court proceeds contempt of court against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for failing to carry out its order to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by its prime minister against contempt charges, paving the way for him to face indictment on Monday.

The ruling ensures a prolonged standoff between the civilian government and the judiciary, which observers say ultimately benefits the country’s powerful military and weakens democracy.

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

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had been charged with refusing to obey the court's request to write a letter to Swiss authorities to revive a 1997 money-laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr. Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, were ordered by a Swiss magistrate in 2003 to return $12 million in kickbacks to Pakistan. That ruling was later overturned after the government of Pakistan withdrew its case in 2008 as part of a political amnesty.

The prime minister’s legal team argues that as president, Zardari enjoys immunity, whereas the Supreme Court judges have stated that, immunity or not, Gilani must follow the court’s decision.

If convicted, Mr. Gilani faces six months in jail and a bar on holding public office. But if he is dismissed, Zardari's government can elect another prime minister, who could in theory also refuse to obey the court’s order, resulting in a constitutional limbo.

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