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Nawaz Sharif’s conviction boosts Imran Khan’s chances of ascending to power

Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 10 years in prison, a major blow for his PML-N party ahead of general elections on July 25.

world Updated: Jul 07, 2018 14:59 IST
Nawaz Sharif,Imran Khan,Nawaz Sharif sentence
Supporters of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, dance to celebrate the verdict of accountability court on an anti-corruption case against ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, on a campaign truck in Karachi, Pakistan on July 6.(REUTERS)

Pakistan’s former premier Nawaz Sharif suffered another blow when a court sentenced him for holding undeclared and expensive properties in London. Sharif was removed from office last year and later the Supreme Court barred him from holding public office for life.

The verdict was not entirely unexpected and it was widely anticipated he would be sentenced for corruption. Sharif’s daughter and likely successor, Maryam, and her husband, Muhammad Safdar, have also been sentenced.

For Maryam, this verdict is a major blow as it ends her immediate chance of holding office. She was due to contest for elections from a safe seat in Lahore, Sharif’s stronghold.

Maryam, in the past year, has emerged as a fiery leader in defending her father’s quest for civilian supremacy. Her critics, however, are aplenty. Not unlike India, Imran Khan’s supporters, especially in the middle classes, castigate her as a symbol of dynastic politics.

The verdict came 20 days before Pakistan is set to elect a new government. Sharif’s party, that had been leading opinion polls until recently, faces a new challenge. With its key leaders sentenced and out of the race, the voters will not be mobilised.

Opposition leader Imran Khan can claim victory as he had been pursuing this case vigorously in courts and on the streets. That Khan is backed by the establishment is a well-known fact but there is a sizeable segment of public opinion in Pakistan that considers the Sharif dynasty a venal representation of old politics of privilege and patronage.

It is a separate matter that in recent weeks, Khan has been accepting defectors from Sharif’s party to boost his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s chances of forming a coalition government.

Currently, it is Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz who is leading the race and is a contender for the PM’s slot. He rejected the verdict and hours later Sharif also expressed his strong reservations about the verdict.

The setback will certainly garner a sympathy wave within Sharif’s voter base. But it is not likely to influence swing voters who may conclude that power and ability to distribute patronage may slip away from the Sharifs.

In short, this is good news for Khan, whose chances of rising to power have increased manifold.

Sharif’s imminent return, unless he changes his decision, is likely to escalate political tensions. Whether in jail or outside, he will be a force to reckon with. In fact, his presence in Pakistan may give hope to PML-N workers and candidates.

But one thing is clear: he is not returning to power anytime soon.

If anything the polarisation between the PML-N and the establishment is the last thing Pakistan needs, when it needs to focus on challenges faced by the economy and a transition to a new elected government is a few weeks away.

(Raza Rumi is editor of the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, and visiting faculty at Cornell Institute for Public Affairs.)

First Published: Jul 07, 2018 08:17 IST