Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday barred former premier and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections, setting a stage for a renewed political confrontation in a country faced with rising militancy.
The apex court also declared the election of Sharif's brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, null and void, which will force him to step down as chief minister of Pakistan's most populous province.
In a verbal order, issued by a three-member bench led by Justice Musa K Leghari dismissed all petitions challenging the Lahore High Court's order disqualifying Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections.
The apex court also upheld the bar on Sharif contesting polls.
The Lahore High Court had earlier ruled that Nawaz Sharif, who was overthrown in a coup by former President Prevez Musharraf was ineligible to stand in a by-elections because of previous criminal convictions.
The court decision is likely to deepen a growing rift between Sharif and the new government headed by President Asif Ali Zardari.
Though the judgment against Sharif would not directly affect a year old PPP-led coalition government, however, the ruling against the younger Sharif could spark off a power struggle in Pakistan's richest province of Punjab, where the PML-N is in coalition with the PPP.