The electoral system in Pakistan has been jolted to its foundations. Wednesday’s verdict of the country’s Supreme Court has pregnant implications far beyond the immediate target ~ pre-eminently disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The Bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has ruled that an “individual disqualified under the Constitution cannot serve as head of a political party”. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has thus been reduced to a rudderless entity ahead of the national elections, underlining the inherent bankruptcy of the political class generally.
For the former Prime Minister, it has been a double whammy in a span of seven months ~ first, his disqualification as head of government in the Panama Papers case (July 2017) and now his ejection from the helm of the ruling party. Ergo, the political implications of the Supreme Court order are no less critical than the personal setback.
The verdict has been clothed with the observation of Chief Justice Nisar, specifically that “Parliament is supreme but the Constitution is above it”. Thus have the terms of engagement been spelt out by the apex judiciary which has, since the era of Pervez Musharraf, emerged as a key factor in the power-play… in addition to the military.
In comparison, the legislature and the executive have been accorded a relatively minor rating; both organs of democracy have their backs to the wall in the aftermath of the apex court verdict which comes in response to 17 petitions challenging the controversial Elections Act 2017.
The Opposition has scored a victory not least because the passage of the Elections Act 2017 last year ~ thanks to the PML-N’s outright majority in the National Assembly and at least one swing vote in the Senate ~ had allowed Nawaz Sharif to be re-elected as PML-N chief. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Awami Muslim League, PPP and others had petitioned the Supreme Court to take a call on the controversial law.
The court has declared Section 203 of the Elections Act ~ which allowed Sharif to retake his party’s leadership ~ null and void, and ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to remove him. The court ruled that “all steps taken, orders passed, directions given and documents issued” by Sharif since his disqualification last year will be deemed to have been nullified.
The former PM and party leader has ~ at any rate for now ~ been relegated to the footnotes of Pakistan’s political history. The punchline of the court order has a bearing on all legislatures with their quota of the tainted ~ “It is crucial for parliamentarians to be of good conduct to run the affairs of the Parliament.” The observation is relevant on either side of the Radcliffe Line.