Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development/Wikimedia Commons
Pakistan’s highest court has banned former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from leading his party, PML-N, ruling that a convicted individual cannot hold the leadership of a political party.
The Supreme Court verdict is a blow to the PML-N and the Sharif family ahead of general elections this year. After a big recent victory in a by-election, it seemed the party could keep its dominance of the largest Punjab province but now the future of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz looks uncertain.
While announcing the verdict, the apex court declared that a person who doesn’t qualify to hold a public office under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, cannot hold the office of president of any political party.
Sharif had to leave the prime minister’s office July last year after the Court found him guilty in a corruption case for concealing his wealth as an elected leader. His offshore assets were revealed in Panama Papers.
The three-time prime minister has been projecting his daughter Maryam Nawaz as his possible replacement but his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who has ruled Punjab for years, also reportedly sees an opportunity to lead the party.
As per the court verdict, Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification has also annulled the tickets he issued for the Senate elections being held on March 3. The ruling party will now have to re-announce its candidates for the Senate polls that were scheduled on March 3.
The Court has directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to remove Nawaz’s name from the column of party presidents. The Section 203 of the Election Act should be read with the Article 62 and 63 of the constitution, the SC remarked.
Pakistan’s major political parties – including the PPP and the PTI – had challenged the Elections Reforms Act 2017, which paved the way for Sharif to become party head again after his disqualification from holding political office under Article 62 (1) (f) of the Constitution.
Pakistan is to hold general elections this year upon completion of five-year term of the PML-N government. Imran Khan’s right-leaning PTI would be a main challenger in Punjab while PPP is likely to retain its majority in Sindh.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI has been in power while Balochistan has had a history of coalition governments.
The Court’s verdict signals a massive setback for Nawaz Sharif, though it many not be the end of the road for his politics.