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Third time not lucky for Sharif
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday disqualified the Lion of Punjab Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for dishonesty and ruled that corruption cases be filed against him and his children over the Panama Papers scandal, forcing the embattled leader to resign. The federal Cabinet also stands dissolved.
The top court took up the case in October last year on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami and reserved the verdict in February after conducting hearings on a daily basis.
It is the third time that the 67-year-old veteran politician’s term as premier has been cut short. The much-awaited verdict plunged Pakistan into a political crisis at a time when the country is facing a brittle economy and a surge in militancy.
Though there was no official announcement, Pakistan Muslims League Nawaz (PML-N) sources said Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz, was most likely to succeed him as PM after the court verdict.
However, a name has not been announced for the interim PM, who will fill the 45-day vacuum until Shehbaz, 65, is elected to a National Assembly seat.
The verdict meant that yet another Pakistani premier has failed to complete a five-year term. No Pakistani PM has ever completed a full five-year term with their tenures cut short by the military, the judiciary or they were ousted by their own party, forced to resign or assassinated.
It is the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that the SC has disqualified a sitting PM, the first being in 2012, when Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a graft case against then President Asif Ali Zardari.
As the unanimous verdict by the five-judge Bench was read out by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan inside the packed courtroom 1 of the SC, a large number of Opposition PTI workers celebrated outside chanting the slogan, ‘Go, Nawaz, Go’.
The court disqualified Sharif under Article 62 and 63 of Pakistan’s Constitution. The Articles state that a Member of Parliament should be “truthful” and “righteous”.
“He is disqualified as a Member of the Parliament so he has ceased to be holding the office of Prime Minister,” Justice Khan said.
The court ordered the Election Commission to issue a notification for Sharif’s disqualification. Following the order, the EC de-notified Sharif from NA-120 constituency (in Lahore).
The court verdict said that having furnished a false declaration under solemn affirmation, Sharif was “not honest” under terms of the Constitution.
The SC disqualified him for failing to declare the “receivable” salary from a UAE-based company of his son in the 2013 nomination paper. The court termed the salary which was not paid to Sharif as an “asset”.
Sharif has maintained that there has not been any wrongdoing on his part.
Following the court verdict, a spokesperson of PML-N said in a statement that Sharif had stepped down as the PM. Despite reservations regarding different phases of the Panama case proceedings, the decision of the apex court will be implemented, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson claimed that during the course of the proceedings of the case, new precedence were set which have not been seen in the history of the country.
The SC also ordered the National Accountability Bureau to start a corruption case against Sharif, his children Hussain, Hassan and his daughter Maryam.
The court also ordered a criminal investigation into the assets of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Sharif’s trusted aide, and Captain Muhammad Safdar, who is Sharif’s son-in-law and a Member of National
Assembly (MNA). Earlier, media reports in Pakistan had said that they had been disqualified.
Contrasting reactions to the verdict were witnessed in Pakistan with workers and supporters of both Opposition and the ruling party taking to the streets to either condemn or celebrate the apex court’s landmark decision.
PTI workers and supporters celebrated the decision by distributing sweets and dancing on drum beats while in Lahore, considered to be Sharif’s bastion, PML-N workers blocked major city roads to protest the verdict.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s leading Opposition leader hailed the verdict. “I am grateful to all those people who struggled with me, protested, or were killed during our long struggle for this cause. It’s the result for a united struggle that we are seeing this day today,” the cricketer-turned-politician said.
Imran also announced that in order to celebrate the court verdict a massive rally will be held here on Sunday.
The Imran Khan-led PTI, in a swipe at Sharif, tweeted, “Godfather’s Rule has ended for good! Truth & Justice have prevailed!”
Pakistan’s former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who has been living in Dubai since last year when he was allowed to leave Pakistan on the pretext of medical treatment, congratulated the entire nation on the court’s decision. “It’s a good decision. The entire nation is jubilantly distributing sweets,” he was quoted as saying by Geo News.
Chairman of Pakistan People Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged everyone to respect the verdict.
This is the third time the Prime Minister, known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’, has been unable to complete his term as premier.
Reacting to Sharif’s disqualification, his daughter Maryam said he would make a forceful comeback.
The Panama Papers scandal is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s, when he twice served as PM, to purchase assets in London. The assets surfaced when Panama Papers leak last year revealed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif’s children. The assets include four expensive flats in London.
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