Pakistan court bars former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office for life

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has faced a relentless anti-graft campaign.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has faced a relentless anti-graft campaign.PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (BLOOMBERG) - Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday (April 13) issued a lifetime ban on politicians holding office after legal disqualification - a ruling that will bar former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from ever holding an elected position following a corruption probe against him last year (2017).

The top court's 5-member panel made the judgement after its July decision that ousted Sharif didn't disclose 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.

Khan's party pressed the top court to investigate the 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 Mazhar Abbas, a Karachi-based political analyst.

"It's important to see what political posture Nawaz Sharif takes in reaction to the court's order, this is the biggest question," Abbas said. "Whether he would wait for the PML-N to win the elections or take aggressive steps like boycotting the ballot or starting street protests."

Sharif, his three children and absentee Finance Minister Ishaq Dar now face criminal proceedings on allegations that they purchased overseas properties illegally. They deny any wrong doing and Sharif has painted himself as a victim of rival politics.

 
 

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb from the ruling party called the judgment a "joke."

Khan and his Movement for Justice has also faced court pressure and Friday'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. However, his younger brother and chief minister of Punjab province, Shehbaz, 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," Shehbaz said in a tweet on Friday. "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," said former Justice Shaiq Usmani.

The political turmoil has roiled Pakistan's markets and it's benchmark stock index was the worst performer globally last year, though it has seen a rebound 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 program. 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.