EXPECTATIONS had been aroused by conciliatory statements from Prime Minster Gilani and Mian Nawaz Sharif that the ongoing confrontation between the government and the PML(N) might finally end. Many thought good sense would finally prevail among the top leadership of the country. These hopes have received a severe jolt from the verdict of a Supreme Court bench, upholding the disqualification of Mian Nawaz from contesting elections and removing Shahbaz Sharif from both the membership of the Punjab Assembly and the post of CM. Even if he is re-elected to the Assembly, he has been effectively disqualified from being the Chief Minister by a bar imposed by former President Musharraf on a third tenure. The imposition of Governor's Rule in the province exacerbates the situation. Mian Nawaz is the leader of the second largest party in the country and has been twice elected Prime Minister. PML(N) lawyers and leaders have condemned the decision as biased and accused President Zardari of putting pressure on the Court to debar his major political opponents. The judgement, which has led to the removal of Mian Shahbaz as CM, has generated a crisis in the largest province of the country, which had a popular, stable and relatively efficient government which faced no threat from the Assembly. With the authority to run the province passing over to the Governor known for his antipathy to the PML(N), the PPP-PML(N) coalition government is virtually dead. The judgement has led to a perception of instability, leaving a negative impact on the share market. Protests by PML(N) workers and the lawyers started all over Punjab, including the provincial capital, soon after the verdict was announced by TV channels. The Punjab Bar Council and Lahore High Court Bar Association declared three days' boycott of the courts. There is a likelihood of similar, though perhaps less spirited, reactions from other provinces also. While the position of other ruling coalition partners is yet not clear, ANP President Asfandyar Wali has expressed dismay over the development, indicating division over the issue within the ruling coalition. The judgement coincides with the arrival of President Zardari from China. Being an all-powerful President as well as the Co-Chairman of the PPP, he is expected by many to stop the country, already reeling under the threat of militancy, from sliding into a crisis. He has to realise that what is at stake is the stability of the country and the future of democracy. Mian Nawaz Sharif too owes it to the people, as the leader of the second largest party, to ensure that the system is not threatened, but it is primarily the responsibility of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to play their role to save the democratic process from being destabilised. Mian Nawaz Sharif, who addressed a hard-hitting press conference on Wednesday, needs to calm down also. Mr Zardari must ensure first that even if Mian Shahbaz is not the CM, the PPP-PML(N) coalition continues to function. A recourse to horse-trading would put the ruling coalition at the mercy of turncoats who would ditch it whenever their self-interest demanded. Second, all legal and political avenues need to be urgently explored by the government to get the verdict changed. If cases against other politicians can be quashed through the NRO, debarring the Sharif brothers on the basis of cases filed for political reasons would lead to a perception of vindictiveness.