Islamabad: Last week’s unanimous verdict of five judges of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to disqualify the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is likely to add to the political troubles of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) amid fears of the end of Sharif’s 30 years continual rule.

Though Sharif has decided to file a review petition before the SC on his disqualification, declaring the judgment against him “weak” and “vague”, and announced the nomination of his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who is ruling the largest province of Punjab at the moment, fears are emerging of forward blocs in the party.

To keep the party authority in his family, a stopgap arrangement has also been made by nominating a party leader as interim PM until Shahbaz Sharif resigns from provincial assembly and becomes a member of National Assembly, mandatory step to become the prime minister. However, this move is being criticized among the serious circles of the party.

PMLN was borne out of the Pakistan Muslim League, PML; in 1988 as a separate party and even at that time Sharif had a stronghold on the party. In Sharif’s various regimes, as well as his exile years, the party suffered various jolts including trading of loyalties of the PMLN members. Especially in the year 2000, as the Sharif family cut a deal and went into exile following an agreement with the then military dictator Pervez Musharraf, more than 70 per cent of its members left PMLN to join other parties.

“The biggest challenge for Sharif will be to keep his party intact which always remained united under his shadow. There are possibilities of a spilt,” senior journalist and political analyst M Ziauddin says. He predicts that the challenges for the party might increase in days to come.

Another challenge Sharif family is facing is of graft cases in accountability courts as SC has directed to file separate references against him, his two sons, daughter, son-in-law and his close relative who remained the finance minister throughout his tenures. The cases against the family are made after they failed to prove the legal money trail to purchase luxurious London flats through offshore companies listed in the Panama papers.

On the other side, legal experts view that the ground on which ex-PM Sharif is disqualified is weak, and it is feared that the military establishment is behind this removal, which is being dubbed as a “judicial coup.” However, the court has been hearing the case against the Sharif family for the past nine months giving ample time to the accused party to prove legal money trail for the purchase of London properties, in which they badly failed according to the judgment.

Hamid Mir, a senior journalist and political analyst, views that the judgment will be sent to different institutions for implementation. “The judgment has created trouble for the PMLN and Sharif. He will also have to step down from the headship of his party and nominate someone else.  And till next elections he will have to fight for party’s unity and popularity.”

Senior lawyer Abid Hassan Minto terms the judgment as very weak. “Contradictions in the judgment are ‘upsetting,” he deems, urging Sharif to move court against the judgment and disqualification on this what he termed frivolous ground.

“The court has disqualified me for no reason. They have disqualified me for not drawing salary from my son’s company. And at that time we were ousted from country and that job was merely a formality to get United Kingdom visa easily and that is why my son opened a company in UAE,” Sharif said, while elaborating his disqualification point to his recent parliamentary party in a meeting. “If you think it is a serious crime then I am criminal,” he said, adding, “This is awful. There are thousands in this country who evade taxes or are unwilling to offer themselves for accountability. Why only my family,” he asserted in publicly aired speech to his party.

Another controversy has surfaced regarding the duration of his disqualification. Many legal experts admitted to the fact that the law is not clear about the time period of disqualification while opining that in normal circumstance it is considered for life. The SC has disqualified Sharif under Article 62 of the Constitution of Islamic republic of Pakistan in which a member assembly is not found “righteous” and “honest.” The ground on which the judges unanimously took their decision was Sharif’s failure to mention drawing a salary of a company in United Arab Emirates of which he was entitled but did not receive. Legally, the court believed, even Sharif had not drawn salary from the company but failing to declare his entitlement and the position in the said company to the election nomination papers, he is not “righteous.”

“This seems conflict between Nawaz Sharif and the establishment. Prima facie, Sharif has played along during the last four years,” Raza Rumi, political analyst said, adding, “Sharif’s original sin is considered get one of the former Army chiefs indicted for constitutional deviation. Is it about Sharif’s strong position, if not further damaged before the elections to return as PM in 2018? Or is it about the growing civilian space and constitutional arrangements that have reduced the options for direct intervention of the military?” he asked.

The party leaders are avowing resolve to save their image while gearing up to capture and capitalize public sympathy for elections-2018. In a similar bid, party leader, Khawaja Saad Rafiq asserted that despite continual victimization its time to walk with their heads held high. He disclosed that the party-led discussions are now calling out for writing of new terms as to who will rule the country and for stopping illegal interventions into the affairs of the departments. He declared that Nawaz would appear as a force against the enemies of democracy.

Sharif’s tenor shows no expression of regret, sadness or anger. He confessed that the last two and a half decades’ struggle has made him an ideologue. His struggle will be a different one. He is already dubbing the challenge for his and the party’s future as one for democracy in Pakistan. While avoiding burning up, he seems to employ erudition to his aid, claiming that he respects the country’s departments. Finally, the news few weeks will disclose how the man and his party plan to fight back.

Sharif says he is not afraid of death, adding, “I am a Pakistani soldier guarding my post and will fight for the rule of law and democracy in Pakistan.” A fearless man is a dangerous opponent. If PMLN plays its cards right they might become a force du tour in the coming election.

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