Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stands before Pakistan's highest court on Thursday to hear the verdict in a contempt of court case that could see him thrown out of office and jailed.
The Supreme Court will rule whether Gilani is guilty of contempt for refusing to obey an order to write to the authorities in Switzerland to ask them to re-open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
If convicted, Gilani faces six months in jail and disqualification from office in a case that has fanned political instability and may force elections within months in a country already troubled by Al-Qaeda and Taliban violence.
Members of the government accuse judges of over-stepping their reach and of trying to bring down the prime minister and president, a year before the administration would become the first in Pakistan to complete an elected term.
Gilani on Wednesday vowed to attend the hearing in person and the full cabinet is expected to accompany him to court.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had ordered tight security around the court, with four helicopters to be stationed overhead for surveillance.
He urged activists from Gilani's ruling Pakistan People's Party not to come to the court and to remain calm whatever the outcome.
Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder about $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.
The Swiss shelved the cases against Zardari in 2008 when he became president and a prosecutor in Switzerland has said it will be impossible to re-open them as long as he remains head of state and so is immune from prosecution.
Gilani insists that Zardari has full immunity, but in December 2009 the Supreme Court overturned a political amnesty that had frozen investigations into Zardari and other politicians.
Even if Gilani is convicted by the seven-judge bench on Thursday, disqualification from office is unlikely to be a straightforward matter.
"The speaker of the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) will be informed to process his disqualification as an MP on the basis of the conviction," former supreme court judge Rashid Rizvi told AFP.
"The speaker has to write to the Election Commission of Pakistan within 30 days after the verdict to unseat the prime minister."
Gilani also has the right to appeal to a larger Supreme Court bench, Rizvi said, meaning the process -- and the political instability that it brings -- could drag on until an election date is announced.
"Since he is prime minister, the court can also suspend its own order for 15 days to enable his counsel to file an appeal," he said.© ANP/AFP