Pakistan SC bars former PM Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections for life
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Pakistan SC bars former PM Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections for life

Nawaz Sharif resigned in July last year after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding office for not declaring an income that he had not received.

world Updated: Apr 13, 2018 21:33 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan,Nawaz Sharif,Pakistan Supreme Court
File photo of Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. (Reuters photo)

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday barred former premier Nawaz Sharif from participating in polls for life, dealing a severe blow to his ruling PML-N party ahead of crucial general elections due this year.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar gave the ruling in response to several petitions on the length of the disqualification under Article 62 (1)(f) of the Constitution, the provision used to strip Sharif of his office last year.

The ruling was the latest in a series of blows to Sharif, 67, who was disqualified by the apex court for dishonesty last July. The court also barred Sharif from holding the top post in the PML-N in February. The political veteran maintains his grip on the party though he is no longer its leader.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial described the ban on Sharif as “permanent” while reading out the unanimous judgement in court. The bench observed such a bar was fair in a democratic setup.

Sharif, also facing a corruption trial, described the verdict as “vindictive” and said he had expected such a ruling from the court because of the bias against him. Speaking at an informal gathering of PML-N leaders at his residence in Lahore, he said, “I have no qualms in saying that (I am) the sole target.”

He was quoted by Geo News channel as saying: “The masses cannot be deprived of their leadership through courts. Obstacles were there in the past as well, the PML-N successfully overcame those and will keep struggling with the same spirit.”

‘People will decide’

Addressing an event in Muzaffarabad soon after the ruling, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the biggest decisions about politicians are made by the people. “The decision, at the end of the day, will be made by the public,” he said, adding the matter will soon go to the people during the elections.

The ruling also applied to the former secretary general of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jahangir Tareen, who too cannot hold public office for life.

Giving additional notes on the ruling, Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh said the court was empowered to interpret the Constitution but not amend it. He added that some lawyers had expressed concern over the lifetime disqualification, saying this may be disproportionate and a little harsh. “Such arguments are perhaps more suitable to the floor of Parliament than at the bar before this Court,” he said.

Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, introduced by the regime of former dictator Zia-ul-Haq, states all MPs must be “sadiq” and “ameen” or honest and righteous. Experts have said this loosely defined provision has for long been used by the establishment to target politicians.

Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, widely seen as his political heir, said the verdict to disqualify him for life had come because it isn’t possible to defeat him in elections. Addressing a convention of PML-N workers, she said this wasn’t the first time Sharif had been disqualified or punished but he had always emerged stronger whenever efforts were made to weaken him.

“Nawaz has been disqualified for life, he was barred from heading his party. But he resides in the hearts of the people,” she said. Opponents had tried to stop Sharif for the past 30 years but they could not succeed, she added.

Minister of state for information Maryam Aurangzeb described the verdict as a “joke” and said, “This is the same (kind of) decision that led to the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the disqualification of an elected prime minister (Sharif).”

Sharif has served as premier three times and been removed from office each time – in 1993 by a presidential order, in 1999 by a coup that saw him jailed and later exiled by military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and in 2017 over the corruption probe.

Political Turmoil

The only way to bring Sharif “back is they (PML-N) come into power through the election and amend the Constitution”, said former judge Shaiq Usmani.

The political turmoil roiled Pakistan’s markets and its benchmark stock index was the worst performer globally last year, though it has seen a rebound since. The measure fell 0.3 percent after the ruling.

Pakistan’s finances are also deteriorating less than two years after it completed a $6.6 billion International Monetary Fund program. The country’s reserves have fallen the most in Asia in the past year and the current account deficit has widened by 50% in the eight months ended February.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Apr 13, 2018 12:28 IST