A look at the political ramifications in Pakistan after the disqualification of the country’s leader, Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif has stepped down as Pakistan’s prime minister after the country’s Supreme Court unanimously disqualified him on grounds that he lied about his assets during a corruption investigation.
The ruling comes after months of hearings in a case that was prompted by the “Panama Papers” leaks.
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
Most have seen their tenures cut short by the powerful military or by the Supreme Court. Others have been ousted by their own party, forced to resign or have been assassinated.
What are the Panama Papers?
A trove of 11.5 million digital records from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed how many of the world’s wealthy used offshore companies to stash assets.
Perpetrators range from simple businessmen to a head of state, via banks and sports stars.
The data were leaked to a German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and reports appeared in major media from April 3, 2016.
Among those cited are former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Argentina’s football star Lionel Messi, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar and Hong Kong’s film star Jackie Chan – but also more than 140 politicians and public officials.
Pakistan_Nawaz SharifWhat was the impact?
In the immediate aftermath, Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign after the leak showed his family sheltered assets offshore.
The Pakistani Supreme Court, disqualifying Sharif from office, also asked the national anti-corruption bureau to launch a further probe into the allegations against him, which stem from the Panama Papers linking the premier’s family to lucrative offshore businesses.
Many of the officials named in the Panama Papers have put forward legitimate reasons to explain their offshore presence and say they have not acted illegally.
In theory everyone has the right to create an offshore company, as long as they declare the profits.
However they are often denounced for being shady and in affairs of corruption they can be used to hide gains that they want to hide from the taxman.
In the year since the scandal erupted at least 150 inquiries or investigations have been launched in more than 70 countries, with authorities examining many cases for possible tax evasion or money laundering, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a US nonprofit group that until February hosted the now-independent ICIJ.
Nawaz Sharif, who has served three separate stints as prime minister, has not commented on the Supreme Court verdict against him but his party said it had “serious reservations” about the judicial process.
Sharif was investigated for corruption after the “Panama Papers” data leak revealed his family used offshore companies to buy posh London apartments.
But his ouster was down to the little-used Article 62 of the Constitution, which allows for dismissal from office of anyone deemed dishonest. The Supreme Court enacted the law because Sharif’s failed to declare monthly income, equal to $2,722, from a Dubai-based company his son owned in disclosure papers filed for the 2013 elections his party won.
Sharif’s allies have privately spoken of a “judicial coup” and say every parliamentarian would likely fail the Article 62 test, including opposition leader Khan, who also has a pending Supreme Court case against him over undeclared income.
The involvement of two members from military intelligence agencies as part of a six-man Supreme Court-appointed investigative panel probing Sharif had further stoked fears within PML-N that the powerful generals had a hand in the judicial proceedings.
Sharif’s two previous stints in power were also cut short, including by a military coup in 1999, but he returned from exile to win a resounding victory in general elections in 2013.
What happens now?
Although Sharif has been disqualified as prime minister, he remains the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the largest party in the National Assembly.
As such, Sharif will oversee the nomination of his successor who will then be rubber-stamped in a parliamentary vote, where his party and coalition partners command a 209-seat majority in the 342-seat house.
The opposition is also expected to field a candidate for the premiership, though the nominee has a slim chance of getting sufficient votes.
Is there any precedent for this?
Yes, in 2012 then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a corruption case against the sitting president Asif Ali Zardari.
Could the court’s decision be challenged?
In theory, yes, but it is highly unlikely.
Sharif’s legal team could file a review petition but only on very limited grounds, such as a mistake in the judgment.
“The Supreme Court is the interpreter and final arbiter of what the constitution means, so if the Supreme Court says that’s how it’s supposed to be done, then for all practical purposes that is what it is,” said constitutional lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani.
Could an early election be called?
An early election is unlikely because according to the constitution it can be called only by the president on the advice of the prime minister, meaning a successor to Sharif would have to be chosen first.
Elections are due in 2018.
Could the military take over again?
The military has been in charge of Pakistan for half of its 70-year history, but few expect the army to make an explicit bid for power again.
The military already exerts control over foreign policy and defence, leading to accusations from some that it is carrying out a “creeping coup”.
“The military doesn’t need to take over because it already enjoys so many trappings of power from behind the scenes,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington, DC-based Wilson Centre.
In addition, Kugelman points out, public opinion in Pakistan does not favour a return to martial law.
“There is also simply not as much of an appetite in Pakistan for military rule as there was in previous years. That’s important for the military because the military is very concerned about its image and public opinion towards the army,” Kugelman said.
Pakistan’s parliament will meet on Tuesday to elect a new prime minister after the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family.
Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif named his younger brother Shahbaz as his successor over the weekend, but he must first enter parliament by contesting the seat left vacant by Sharif.
In the meantime the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which enjoys a majority in parliament, has nominated ex-oil minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim prime minister.
Abbasi is set to be rubber-stamped as placeholder in the parliamentary vote. The opposition could also field a candidate but has little chance of securing enough votes in the 342-seat house.
Pakistan’s main opposition leader Imran Khan plans to hold a rally celebrating Sharif’s ousting in the capital Islamabad later Sunday.