Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been ousted from power by the Supreme Court, an unceremonious end to his third term in power ahead of general elections next year, reports AFP.
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
Most have seen their tenures cut short by the powerful military or by the Supreme Court. Others have been ousted by their own party, forced to resign--or been assassinated.
What happens now?
Although Sharif has been disqualified as prime minister, he remains the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the largest party in the National Assembly.
As such, Sharif will oversee the nomination of his successor who will then be rubber stamped in a parliamentary vote, where his party and coalition partners command a 209-seat majority in the 342-seat house.
The opposition is also expected to field a candidate for the premiership, though the nominee has almost no chance of getting sufficient votes.
The vote will likely happen in a matter of days -- if not hours -- of Sharif's disqualification.
Is there any precedent for this?
Yes, in 2012 then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a corruption case against the sitting president Asif Ali Zardari.
After Gilani was ousted by the Supreme Court, President Zardari, the then-head of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, led the negotiations to find a consensus candidate for the premiership.
Following three days of intense horse-trading within the fractious coalition government, PPP-loyalist Raja Pervaiz Ashraf -- a controversial choice also marred by corruption allegations -- was eventually elected prime minister by the National Assembly.
Could the court's decision be challenged?
In theory, yes -- but it is highly unlikely.
Sharif's legal team could file a review petition but only on very limited grounds, such as a mistake in the judgement.
"The Supreme Court is the interpreter and final arbiter of what the constitution means, so if the Supreme Court says that's how it's supposed to be done then for all practical purposes that is what it is," said constitutional lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani.
Could an early election be called?
An early election is unlikely because according to the constitution it can only be called by the president on the advice of the prime minister, meaning a successor to Sharif would have to be chosen first.
Elections are currently due in 2018.
Could the military take over (again)?
The military has been in charge of Pakistan for half of its 70-year history, but few expect the army to make an explicit bid for power again.
The military already exerts control over foreign policy and defence, leading to accusations from some that it is carrying out a "creeping coup".
"The military doesn't need to take over because it already enjoys so many trappings of power from behind the scenes," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington, DC-based Wilson Centre.
In addition, Kugelman points out, public opinion in Pakistan does not favour a return to martial law.
"There is also simply not as much of an appetite in Pakistan for military rule as there was in previous years. That's important for the military because the military is very concerned about its image and public opinion towards the army," Kugelman said.