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Pakistan opposition hails Sharif ouster as victory for rule of law
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from public office over long-running corruption allegations. The decision ousts him from the premiership for the third time. The ruling may plunge Pakistan into political instability.
“I think the reaction of everybody in Pakistan, for a lot of people is extremely positive,” says Hamid Zaman, a high-ranking member of the opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
“Because this is the first time that there is some accountability of the ruling elite and the Supreme Court has for the first time given a judgement where it has called into account the wrongdoings of a lot of people, including the prime minister and his whole family who have been involved in money-laundering and taking assets abroad.”
Allegations first surfaced when the names of Sharif's two sons and his daughter surfaced in the Panama Papers last year. They were accused of having several flats in an upmarket street in London. The investigation also showed that the Sharif's wealth has increased 91 times over the last few years.
The court verdict stated that there was a “significant disparity” between the income of the family and their lifestyle, and the prime minister had “not been honest about it”.
Charges against Sharif were brought in the form of five constitutional petitions by PTI leader and former cricketer Imran Khan and others.
The judgement, issued on 28 July, was supported by three of the five judges with two voting against.
It stated that Sharif was “disqualified from being a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) with immediate effect, whereafter he shall cease to be the prime minister of Pakistan.’’
“This is not an unexpected decision,” says Jami Chandio, Director of the Centre for Peace and Civil Society in Islamabad. “Nawaz Sharif and his two sons and his daughter could not produce any intelligent evidence or any verified authentic documents before the investigation committee or the Supreme Court.”
Election next year
A general election is due to be held next year and Chandio excludes the possibility of an early poll as a result of Sharif’s ouster.
“The decision was expected, even by the sitting government," he says. "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the party had already managed, and they were planning to replace Nawaz Sharif [by] maybe his brother who is chief minister of Punjab right now."
Chandio expects a swift decision on who will replace Sharif until the elections, adding that Imran Kahn is the only politician who wants early elections.
“Imran Kahn and his party had been demanding [snap elections] continuously for a long time since, according to them, the 2013 elections were rigged.
“So they are demanding that now the prime minister is disqualified, the entire parliament and government should be replaced. But in this case Imran Khan is isolated. He is alone,” he says.
Meanwhile, people in neighbouring India are following the developments in Pakistan with concern.
“MPs have expressed worry that the [Pakistani] military is getting powerful in Pakistan after this dislodging of a democratically elected government,” says Rajan Kumar, a political scientist with Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
“Even if it’s been done by a legal process and the Supreme Court is involved, you can feel that it is very likely that the army can get the upper hand.”
The Indian military is not on alert as a result of the crisis, he says. “But people are worried that Pakistan could become unstable. If they become weak, terrorist groups may become very powerful and that is not good for India.”
In Pakistan, too, all eyes are now on how its fragile democracy will hold up.
“All political parties insist that democracy should continue,” says Chandio.
“Despite their differences, they are on the same page, including Imran Khan, that there should be no room for extrajudicial or extra-parliamentary or extra-constitutional coups by the military,” adding that the army will not intervene directly because of the political situation in Pakistan is not bad enough to “make that necessary”.