The dramatic has happened in Pakistan a little over two months after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the case relating to his involvement in the Panama papers scandal (28 July). The former Prime Minister has been re-elected as president of his party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), after the country’s President, Mamnoon Hussain, ratified the Election Bill 2017 ~ as controversial as it is divisive.
Not least because under the Representation of People’s Act 1976, a disqualified person cannot hold office in any party, still less helm the organisation. Theoretically, therefore, Sharif’s disqualification ought to have blackballed his re-election. Far from it.
The controversial piece of legislation on a matter of tremendous constitutional importance was reportedly bulldozed in the National Assembly on the strength of the PML(N)’s brute majority. And the presidential ratification, however suspect, has paved the way for Sharif’s re-election.
No other candidate from the party contested the in-house contest and reports that he has returned from London to forestall “party birds from flying over to the opposite camp” can only be speculated upon. Post his ouster in the last week of July, the political narrative has distinctly been in favour of Sharif, his immediate family, and the PML(N).
The development, though it flies in the face of legislative certitudes, has shored up the image of the ruling party considerably and ahead of the general elections in 2018. Indeed, Sharif’s return to Pakistan coupled with the party’s mandate have strengthened the PML(N)’s defences further still in the aftermath of the victory of Kulsoom Nawaz in the by-election to the National Assembly from Lahore ~ the party’s bastion.
In his moment of personal triumph, Sharif has had himself reinstated as the official leader of the PMLN because neither he nor his party are willing to accept his disqualification from public office by the Supreme Court as politically legitimate.
The ruling party’s attitude is deeply distressing and the Presidential assent has been greeted with stout condemnation by the Opposition, with the Awami Muslim League telling the party and government, “You are risking the country’s democracy over one person. You have attacked the Supreme Court with a rocket launcher. You can start digging the grave of democracy with your majority.”
Regretfully, certitudes of the democratic engagement were binned in course of the National Assembly debate and, sadly enough, at the presidential palace as well. The legislature is said to have rejected the amendment to the Bill presented by the Jamaat-e-Islami. In the net, the PML(N) has used its majority to serve its ends and that of its leaders… governance be damned.
Sharif would have reaped a measure of goodwill had he exonerated himself in the accountability court before plunging into politics again. The Rawalpindi GHQ, which has stoutly denied its hand in the PM’s ouster, must be bamboozled.
Pakistan being Pakistan, the legislature and the ruling party have scored over the judiciary.