|Gilani has so far refused to reopen old corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, pictured [GALLO/GETTY]
Pakistan's supreme court has rejected an appeal by Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, against his being summoned in a contempt case and is set to charge him within days.
The contempt accusation arises from Gilani and his advisers ignoring court orders to ask Swiss authorities to re-open corruption cases against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
There are fears that the case, which has raised tension between Pakistan's civilian leaders and the court and could eventually see Gilani jailed, could drag on and risk paralysing the government.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who chairs an eight-member judicial panel assembled specifically for the case, dismissed Gilani's appeal in court on Friday.
It was "very likely" that Gilani would now be charged with contempt, though he could appeal that ruling as well, said Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad.
"If he is indeed convicted of this, this could cause a real problem here in Pakistan and fresh political turmoil," Tyab said.
"[Gilani] could face up to six months in prison and be disqualified from office."
Zardari is the most prominent of many Pakistani officials who benefited from a controversial 2007 amnesty law, passed under the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, the former president, that threw out thousands of old corruption cases.
"It's very unlikely that the prime minister will ever do anything against the president," Tyab said.
If Gilani is removed, it does not necessarily mean the government will fall, since the ruling coalition has the numbers in
parliament to elect a replacement.
But a protracted court battle could weaken the government and damage the ruling Pakistan People's Party's chances in the next general election, expected by 2013.
Pakistan's current government is the longest-serving civilian administration in the country's history and could become the first to serve out its full term.
Political instability and brinksmanship often distract Pakistani leaders from a series of challenges - from tackling
Taliban fighters to the struggling economy and rampant poverty.
While Pakistanis have grown accustomed to tension between civilian leaders and generals, the supreme court has
increasingly asserted itself over the last few years, making the political landscape more combustible.