Talk Point: What does Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification mean for democracy in Pakistan and its politics

Pakistan’s Supreme Court  disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday due to allegations of corruption. The allegations which surfaced after the 2015 Panama Papers leak effectively ends the possibility of Sharif becoming one of the rare Prime Ministers to complete a full term in Pakistan. So, what does Sharif’s dismissal mean for Pakistan and its democracy? We ask experts.

A weakened Nawaz Sharif is the best way for the military to have its way without being in power — PRANAB SAMANTA, Editor, ThePrint

The outcome of the Pakistan Supreme Court verdict is the best situation for Rawalpindi in the perennially problematic Rawalpindi-Islamabad dynamic. Now, the civilian power is under scrutiny and weakened by the corruption allegations. Rawalpindi’s military establishment now looks stronger and gets an instant image lift. A weakened Nawaz Sharif is the best way for the military to have its way without being in power. Until now, Sharif was perhaps the only politician who could stand up to the might of the Pakistan military. Now, the military can wield authority and influence without having responsibility for running the show.

This also opens the political space in Pakistan. It could pave the way for Imran Khan. New leaders may emerge. Who knows, some radicalized forces may rush to occupy the political space. This may be the beginning of a very different political culture to take shape. For too long, politics in Pakistan has been in the domain of the Bhuttos and Sharif. They represented an era in politics in Pakistan. Now, we may just be staring at an unknown and unpredictable future.

Sharif is caught in such a jam that even if he comes out of this crisis in some time, he will appear tired and bruised. He would have lost a lot of credibility. Even if Sharif comes back, it is going to be a stronger military and they would not even have to take a dent in their image by directly ruling. Or, the military may foist some other political party.

For New Delhi, it is clear they will have to deal with a stronger Rawalpindi hereon.

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Nawaz Sharif has been barred for life, and he can’t bring in his daughter. who was being groomed for a larger role — QUATRINA HOSAIN, Editor, Narratives magazine, Bol Media Group

The verdict has been accepted by Nawaz Sharif. The federal cabinet stands dissolved. The democratic system stays in Pakistan. The process for this kind of a situation is well-laid out in our Constitution. The Supreme Court has directed the president to uphold the democratic process.

This is a huge blow to the ruling party. Everybody could see the writing on the wall, even though the ruling party was clinging to a shred of hope that they would be saved.

It can’t be that Shabaz Sharif will be elected to head the government, he is a member of the Punjab assembly, which also expires in a few months. They will have to find someone else in the party to hold it together till the national elections. PML (N) is a very strong party, has wide grassroot support, it is not a cult or a party based on one individual and has significant second-tier leaders.

Nawaz Sharif has been barred for life, and he can’t bring in his daughter who was being groomed for a larger role.

Corruption has eroded Pakistan’s economy and future. This process of accountability in the highest positions must extend across the board. It is the first time a ruling party PM has been charged, tried and convicted for corruption. Until now, it was the opposition politicians who have been charged and tried, and they have always blamed it on political witch-hunting. But this has been driven by a joint investigation team and the court. This is a huge success for the democratic process.

What must be stressed here is that the military has taken no position at all, either publicly or privately. It wasn’t really part of the process.

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It will be shallow to see the verdict as an unqualified success for Pakistani democracy — Dhruva Jaishankar, Fellow, Brookings Institution India Center

Some liberals and populists may see the Supreme Court verdict today as a positive development for Pakistani democracy: a judicial victory over a corrupt, feudal elite that has for too long viewed Pakistan as a personal fiefdom from which to extract ill-gotten wealth. But this would be a shallow reading. In fact, it is hard to see the prime minister’s removal as an unqualified success for Pakistani democracy.

Nawaz Sharif will undoubtedly be succeeded by a loyalist, someone who can keep the seat warm on behalf of himself and his family. Nawaz’s daughter Maryam, very much at the centre of the scandal that engulfed him, has already promised that today’s decision “will pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s resounding victory in 2018.” Indeed, Nawaz has bounced back from far more adverse circumstances after 1993 and 1999. The Sharifs will remain a force in Pakistani politics for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, greater space will be given to the Pakistan Army, particularly on matters of national security. The Army had already engineered a ‘soft coup’ against Nawaz in 2014, using the populist pressures of Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri to force him to cede ground on certain key policy areas. His dismissal now creates further space for the Army to continue its self-defeating policy of supporting terrorist groups against Afghanistan and India, while becoming more dependent on political and economic support from China, to the detriment of Pakistan’s economic potential, security, and autonomy.

The structural conditions for India-Pakistan engagement were already sub-optimal. Weak civilian leadership in Islamabad will only add to the adverse circumstances. New Delhi will have little choice then but to bide its time, and wait for more propitious conditions and a stronger interlocutor in Islamabad.

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What we have seen in the past year is a home-grown, supra-Constitutional impeachment process — Rafay Alam, lawyer and environmental activist, Lahore 

The Panama Leaks came out of the blue.  They did not emerge from the politics of Pakistan.  They were the result of investigative journalism elsewhere.  And if Nawaz Sharif, given the time he has had and the immense resources at his disposal, could only come up with a forged letter and not even get his fonts right on others, then he doesn’t have the “Calibri” to lead.

The Supreme Court didn’t want to hear this case.  It was foisted upon it as a result of political agitation.  And when the evidence was laid before unbiased eyes, the figures did not add up, and the Prime Minister had to go.

What we have seen in the past year, however, is a home-grown, supra-Constitutional impeachment process.  But it’s too soon to tell if such accountability will become institutionalized and can be applied across the board.  One hopes it doesn’t get used arbitrarily on anyone who falls foul of the powers that be.

Is this good for democracy?  Pakistan hasn’t had an elected Prime Minister serve out a term, so I can’t say.  I can say the removal of an elected representative before the end of their term has deep repercussions on the electorate – at its heart, democracy is the trust its citizens repose in their representatives.  So regardless of why Nawaz Sharif, I don’t think this decision can be properly appreciated without considering how the mandate of the people has been affected.  But we have an election next year, so we’ll know then.

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Democracy isn’t under threat, but Nawaz Sharif’s party will struggle to remain united — Rahimullah Yusufzai, Resident Editor, The News International

The writing was on the wall.

The five Supreme Court judges during the hearing of the case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his two sons and daughter had repeatedly observed that the family had failed to provide evidence of the money trail that enabled it to set up offshore companies and buy properties in London. The bench not only disqualified Sharif from holding office for failing to meet the constitutional requirement of being ‘sadiq’ (truthful) and ‘ameen’ (honest), but also recommended anti-corruption cases against him, his children, son-in-law and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. To add to the indignity, Sharif wasn’t given the right of appeal against the unanimous court judgement.

It is the third time Sharif wasn’t able to complete his five-year term as PM and was sent home without due democratic process. In fact, none of the 18 PMs that ruled Pakistan to-date could complete their full term in office. This shows that democratic governments in Pakistan are weak and could be easily manipulated by the powerful military, the previously empowered Presidents, and even the judiciary.

Though the Supreme Court has made a major decision to punish those accused of involvement in corruption, it remains to be seen if this process would be taken forward instead of keeping it Sharif-specific. His major political rival, Imran Khan, too is facing a serious court case about his assets, and the verdict is being eagerly awaited.

For now, democracy isn’t under threat as Parliament is intact and Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, could get its nominee elected as the new PM until the general election next year. However, the party that is named after Sharif will have to struggle to remain united and overcome the shock of the disqualification to be able to win the 2018 polls.

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Hopefully democracy in Pakistan will survive this huge setback — NEETI NAIR, Author and Associate Professor of history at University of Virginia

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has a poor track record of defending democracy. There is a pattern in these judgments from The State vs Dosso in 1958 to the verdict on Friday. The problem of judicial overreach is quite familiar to Indians. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s democracy desperately needs stability.

Earlier in May, after a year that saw much muck-raking against the Sharifs’ allegedly ill-gotten wealth, the Supreme Court more or less decided, by 3 to 2, that they did not have the jurisdiction to try Sharif under Article 184(3) “without stretching the letter of the law and the scheme of the Constitution.”

That the court then included military intelligence and ISI on the Joint Investigation Team instituted, and have now disqualified him on the basis of being “not honest” in declaring income that he never withdrew, suggests a masterfully executed witch-hunt has come to a successful conclusion. The warm congratulations received by the judges today from former military dictator Pervez Musharraf show us where true power continues to lie in Pakistan.

The military and intelligence communities must know that Nawaz Sharif treated this third term far more seriously, and has taken active steps to try resolve long-standing problems of energy shortages, terrorism, and was moving forward on the wildly popular One Belt One Road. The Karachi Stock Exchange reflected an unprecedented upswing last year. Perhaps therein lay the problem; Sharif would have most likely won the election to be held next year.

The justices would do well to reflect on their own verdict on Dosso; history will not judge them kindly either. The Sharifs are down but not out; and Imran Khan should know that “those who live in glass houses …”. Hopefully, democracy in Pakistan will survive this huge and completely unnecessary setback.

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This issue should have been resolved in Pakistan’s parliament – ZARRAR KHUHRO, Columnist and co-host of Pakistani satire show Zara Hat Kay

Dispensing with the hyperbole that’s surrounding this case, it is neither a black day nor the most historic day that Pakistan has seen. No doubt it is unfortunate that no elected Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history has completed his or her term in office, but I caution at drawing parallels between, say, the judicial murder – directed by a military dictator – and the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.

This issue could have, and should have, been resolved in parliament but political intransigence made that impossible. This is doubly unfortunate because it was parliament that came to Nawaz Sharif’s rescue during the dharna of 2014, but the PM effectively ignored parliament once the danger had passed.

The use of Articles 62/ 63 is troubling, but again there were ample chances for the PML-N to get together with other parties and repeal these articles, but they chose to retain them for the purposes of political expedience. Indeed, when the Supreme Court held former PPP PM Yusuf Raza Gilani to be ineligible to hold office, the PML-N led the celebrations.

Certainly, there are questions regarding the speed with which the JIT completed its report, and also valid questions about the grounds for and the possibility of establishment interference here cannot be ruled out. But it is ridiculous to paint the Panama leaks – as many in the PML-N have done even today – as some kind of grand international conspiracy against Pakistan.

The process that we have seen here today must now be broadened and applied to all the powerful institutions of Pakistan. If that doesn’t happen, then there will always remain a question mark over the legitimacy of this decision.

1 Comment

  1. One finds it difficult to believe that the army had no role to play in the outcome of this case. Great pity that when it already has a veto over policies relating to India and other major relationships, it chooses to play such an outsize role in the politics of Pakistan. If Pakistan is not doing well at home, in so many ways, it must accept responsibility, not project itself as the ultimate guarantor the country’s well being.

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