Pakistan Supreme Court Rules Nawaz Sharif Can’t Head His Own Party

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has announced the verdict on Election Act 2017 earlier on Wednesday and has declared that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was ineligible to head the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, his own political party.

The Supreme Court ruled that a person disqualified under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution cannot head a political party. Hearing into the petitions was a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Umer Ata Bandial, and Justice Ijazul Ahsen. The three-member bench of the Supreme Court challenged the controversial Election Act 2017 and ruled that former premier Nawaz Sharif does not qualify to serve as the PML-N president.

Nawaz Sharif Pakistan Supreme Court
By Z A Balti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
According to local reports from Pakistan, the chief justice said that since a party head is powerful and political parties control the government, therefore it is mandatory for a party head to fulfill the requirements of Article 62 and 63. “Parliamentarians must possess good character to run the affairs of parliament,” Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar added.

As a direct result of the Supreme Court ruling, all decisions issued by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as the party chief, including all the tickets awarded to candidates for the Senate elections, were declared null and void.

According to The International News, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that it was mandatory for the chief of political party to fulfill the requirements posed by Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

In what has become one of the shortest verdicts in Pakistan’s history, the Supreme Court directly struck down Section 203 of the Election Act. Section 203 allowed disqualified parliamentarians to be elected as party leaders. According to a statement given by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s verdict will be effective from July 28, 2017, after his disqualification as a member of the National Assembly.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s short order consists of only nine paragraphs, it has already put the upcoming Senate elections in jeopardy. Faisal Chaudhry, a lawyer for one of the 17 petitioners who sought Nawaz Sharif’s removal as party head, said the Supreme Court decision includes all Sharif-nominated candidates for the Senate election.

“My understanding is that the candidates can still contest but as independent and not as Nawaz Sharif’s party ticket holders,” Chaudhry told Reuters.

During the infamous Panama Papers case, one of the most publicized trials in Pakistan’s history, the Supreme Court of Pakistan launched a probe into Nawaz Sharif family’s involvement in corruption.

The Panamagate case, officially titled Imran Khan Niazi v. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, was heard between 1 November 2016 and 23 February 2017. The final verdict in the case was announced on 28 July 2017, with the Supreme Court announcing its unanimous decision for disqualifying the Prime Minister from holding public office.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from serving as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, as well as the leader of the National Assembly.

However, despite the highly publicized trial, the ruling party managed to pass new acts that would amend Pakistan’s Constitution and allow the former prime minister to retain his position as the chair of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party.

Under the old act, a person disqualified from holding public office was also barred from leading a political party. The bar, however, was removed by the Nation Assembly when it passed the Elections Act 2017.

Following the controversial act, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Awami Muslim League, MNA Jamshaid Dasti, National Party, Pakistan People’s Party and others petitioned the Supreme Court against the Elections Act 2017, which lead to the court hearings being held in January 2018.

The petitions challenged specific clauses of the Elections Act 2017, stating that Sharif Nawaz’s appointment as party president is in violation of Clause 5 of the Political Parties Order 2002 and Article 17 of the Constitution.

Following the Supreme Court verdict, Nawaz Sharif has said that his removal from office was part of a political conspiracy against him, and has started to wage a war of words against the judiciary in the recent weeks.

Sharif’s PML-N party holds a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, and it has been hopeful of winning control of the Senate in the March 3 election.

If PML-N were to win the March Senate elections and gain control of both houses of the National Assembly, they could bring about changes to the constitution that would make Sharif eligible to hold office again when the party contests general elections due later this year.

Nawaz Sharif has already served as Pakistan’s prime minister twice, once from 1990 to 1993, and from 1997 to 1999. He was removed from power both times, in 1999 by a military coup and 1993 by presidential order.