ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a three-year-old bribery case, deepening a political crisis that has been spurred by anti-corruption demonstrations led by a populist cleric.
The court ordered the arrest of Ashraf within 24 hours. Some observers said the order, if implemented, could derail elections planned for later this year.
Political analysts said the development raises the prospect that Pakistan’s powerful military leadership could establish a caretaker government and then call for a delay in choosing which political party would lead Pakistan for the next five years.
Tahir ul-Qadri, the cleric leading the protests, wants “to seek military intervention for the removal of the present government,” said noted political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi. “That is why the timing of the court’s decision is being seen as meaningful.”
It is the second time since June that the Supreme Court has ordered the ouster of a prime minister. Yousuf Raza Gilani was forced from office when he refused to write a letter asking Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani was replaced by Ashraf, who agreed to write the letter.
Now Ashraf is accused of receiving commissions and bribes in deals to build electric power plants while he was minister for water and power in 2010. Ashraf denies the charges.
The court last year declared that all contracts to establish the power plants were illegal, and it instructed the National Accountability Bureau to take legal action against Ashraf and others responsible for approving the projects. The anti-corruption agency refused to act on the court’s directive unless the court also authorized the arrest.
In addition to the arrest order, the court directed that Ashraf and 15 others accused in the case be placed on Pakistan’s Exit Control List so they cannot flee the country.