ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday issued a lifetime ban on politicians holding office after legal disqualification - a ruling that will bar former premier Nawaz Sharif from ever holding an elected position again, following a corruption probe against him last year.
The top court's five-member panel made the ruling after its decision last July ousting Sharif did not state the length of time the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was barred from office.
Sharif, who has been elected and removed as prime minister three times since the 1990s, has faced a relentless anti-graft campaign - led by former cricket star and opposition leader Imran Khan.
Mr Khan's party had pressed the top court to investigate the former premier's business dealings following the so-called Panama Papers leaks in 2016 showed the Sharif family used offshore accounts to buy high-end London properties.
"The lifetime disqualification will damage the party in elections besides putting deeper cracks into the party ranks," said Karachi-based political analyst Mazhar Abbas.
"It's important to see what political posture Nawaz Sharif takes in reaction to the court's order, this is the biggest question," Mr Abbas added. "Whether he would wait for the PML-N to win the elections or take aggressive steps like boycotting the ballot or starting street protests."
PARTY UNDER PRESSURE
The lifetime disqualification will damage the party in elections besides putting deeper cracks into the party ranks.
MR MAZHAR ABBAS, a Karachi-based political analyst, on the ruling affecting former premier Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif, his three children and absentee Finance Minister Ishaq Dar now face criminal proceedings over allegations that they purchased overseas properties illegally. They deny any wrongdoing and Sharif has painted himself as a victim of rival politics.
Speaking to reporters after the decision, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb from the ruling party called the judgment a "joke".
Mr Khan and his Movement for Justice has also faced court pressure, and yesterday's ruling bans his former deputy and one of the party's funders, Jahangir Tareen, from elected office.
This year, the Supreme Court also ordered Sharif's removal as president of the ruling PML-N. But his younger brother and chief minister of Punjab province, Mr Shehbaz Sharif, is now heading the party and is its presumptive prime ministerial candidate for national elections scheduled for July.
"Nawaz Sharif is not the name of a person," Mr Shehbaz Sharif said in a tweet yesterday. "Rather he represents a philosophy and an ideology of public service, supremacy of Constitution and respect of vote. A leader like him does not need any formal office to continue guiding his party & serving his people."
However, the only real way to bring Nawaz Sharif back to office is if "they come into power through the election and amend the Constitution", according to former Justice Shaiq Usmani.
The political turmoil has roiled Pakistan's markets and its benchmark stock index was the worst performer globally last year, though it has rebounded since. The measure fell 0.3 per cent after the ruling.
Pakistan's finances are also deteriorating less than two years after it completed a US$6.6 billion (S$8.6 billion) International Monetary Fund programme. The country's reserves have fallen the most in Asia in the past year and the current account deficit has widened by 50 per cent in the eight months ended February.