With Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif disqualified by the Supreme Court, what does it mean for the country and what happens now?

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was elected in 2013, was removed from power by the Supreme Court on Friday. Nawaz’s ouster comes roughly a year before the general election in 2018.

Nawaz Sharif disqualified by the five-judge bench for life and could be facing time in prison as the Supreme Court finds him guilty of corruption and money laundering. While the landmark ruling puts Nawaz’s mammoth wealth and freedom in danger, what does it mean for Pakistan? What happens now in the country, where no PM has managed to complete their five-year tenure in the country’s history.

Nawaz Sharif Disqualified
By Prerna goyal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nawaz Sharif Disqualified: Political Unrest or Military Coup?

Nawaz’s removal from power – spurred by the year-long Panama Papers case – puts Pakistan in a volatile situation, as the nation could be standing on the brink of a yet another political unrest that could potentially lead to a military coup.

Pakistan, which is no stranger to seeing its army grabbing all the power and ousting PMs, is bracing for the consequences of Nawaz’s disqualification. Nawaz, meanwhile is no stranger to being removed from power, as this is the third time the PM has been ousted. In the past, one of the most controversial politicians in Pakistan’s history has been removed for corruption (yet again) and then was ousted in a military coup.

This time around, Nawaz Sharif disqualified by the Supreme Court for being dishonest to Parliament and courts and failing to account for his and his family’s vast wealth. Earlier this month, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) found “glaring disparity in the assets and known income” of the PM’s family.

What Does it Mean for Nawaz and Pakistan?

As the court rules that Nawaz cannot hold the office any longer, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will now have to de-notify Nawaz to fulfill the technicalities of implementing the order.

Then, Nawaz’s ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will have to choose an interim PM who will rule the nation until the general elections in 2018. While the party – and Nawaz – is expected to give a statement later on Friday, experts predict that the PM’s brother Shahbaz, who is chief minister of Punjab province, could replace him to rule until 2018, a decision that would most likely spark nation-wide protests in Pakistan.

But it seems like a new Pakistani PM candidacy is the least of Nawaz’s concerns now that a criminal investigation would be launched against the controversial PM and his family members. While Nawaz serving time in prison cannot be ruled out, an accountability court will be looking into the Panama Papers case to determine Nawaz’s fate after receiving all the compromising material on the PM from the JIT within the next six weeks.

Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who has headed the Panama Papers case, said a judgment on Nawaz and his family’s fate should be announced within the next six months. Justice Khan will personally oversee the process, he said.

Is This the End of Corruption in Pakistan?

While Pakistan is on the brink of political uncertainty – with many Pakistanis still coming to grips with Nawaz Sharif disqualified – the landmark decision will be seen as a victory of justice in the nation, which has been plagued by corruption for decades.

Although it remains unclear if Nawaz’s disqualification will have any effect on the nation-wide corruption or if the future PM will be more open about his financial assets, it is true that Pakistan has just turned over a new leaf and many Pakistanis have a hope that the Panama Papers case will be the dawn of new era for the country.

Pakistan’s Economy is on the Verge of Crisis

The Panama Papers case, and most notably its rapid development this month, have led to uncertainty on the stock market and left Pakistan’s economy in tatters. Last week, it was reported that the country’s economy current account deficit (CAD) soared in the Fiscal Year 2017 to the shocking figure of $12.1 billion, which is close to beating the 2008 financial crisis highs.

As the economy continues nose-diving amid the political drama surrounding the PM’s ouster, Nawaz’s successor will have to address the economic challenges and weak points head-on to save the nation from the economic disaster.

Who’s Facing Jail Time Besides Nawaz Sharif?

In a decision that will most certainly re-shape Pakistan’s political future, Nawaz Sharif disqualified by the Supreme Court finalizes the year-long corruption scandal stemming from last year’s revelations in the Panama Papers, which revealed that Nawaz’s children owned several properties in London through various off-shore firms.

The PM is not the only one facing a criminal investigation, as the justices also ordered the opening of criminal investigations against his children – Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz – as well as MNA Captain Muhammad Safdar, Maryam’s husband and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, whose son is married to Nawaz’s other daughter, Asma.

Increased Risk of Protests and Political Uncertainty in Pakistan

The mere thought that Nawaz could appoint another member of his corruption-ridden family – brother Shahbaz – raises the chances that Pakistani people could rise in revolt to protest the decision, even though Shahbaz would serve only as an interim PM until the 2018 general election.

In last year’s Panama Papers revelations, it was revealed that the Nawaz family’s off-shore assets include four expensive apartments in London. The Supreme Court, which now has Nawaz Sharif disqualified following the large-scale investigation, ruled that the PM and his family members lied to the court when trying to refute the allegations that he has been abusing his authority to enrich himself and his family.

Nawaz is still a billionaire, as his declared assets stood at 1.84 billion Pakistani rupees in 2016, while the International Business Times places his estimated net worth at $10 billion.

Who Will Be New Pakistani PM After Nawaz’s Removal?

The fate and political future of Nawaz, who has been a dominating force in Pakistan’s politics for three decades, is hanging by a threat now that the Supreme Court has had Nawaz Sharif disqualified. The PM was disqualified for life and is facing time in prison, but Pakistanis seem more concerned about who will replace Nawaz.

The most likely nominees to replace Nawaz until the 2018 general election remain Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the national assembly, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the defense minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the minister of petroleum as well as commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan.

And, of course, there is Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz, whose appointment could potentially ignite protests across the nation. No matter what choice the ruling party makes about the new PM, there will still be a chance of Pakistan’s notorious army grabbing the power once again before the 2018 general election.

What About Imran Khan?

Imran Khan, long-time critic of Nawaz and an opposition politician who has been the driving force behind the campaign to remove the PM from power as part of the Panama Papers case, remains one of few politicians who will gain the most politically from Nawaz’s corruption scandal. Khan was one of the – or even the only – reason why the Supreme Court picked up the Panama Papers case in the first place. Khan’s stubbornness – via street protests and court petitions – has dragged the corruption scandal against the Nawaz family all the way up to the PM’s ouster.

In order to win the 2018 general election, however, Khan will have to gain traction in Punjab Province, which is the most populous of Pakistan’s four provinces. The province has been largely pro-Nawaz for decades, which is why Khan – or any other opponent of Nawaz – will have to put a substantial amount of effort to shift Punjab politically.

Nawaz’s Achievements Could Spark a Sympathy Wave in Pakistan

Despite the corruption drama plaguing Nawaz’s reputation, it is a fact that he was the Pakistani PM over a period of relative economic stability. While Nawaz is not necessarily the sole or even a major reason for that success, the fact that he rallied the nation over his arguably biggest political achievements – the implementation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – could spark a sympathy wave for Nawaz now that the Supreme Court has had Nawaz Sharif disqualified for life.

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