Pakistan court says Sharif can't head party

A supporter of ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif protesting against the Supreme Court verdict yesterday outside a court where Sharif arrived to face corruption charges in Islamabad.
A supporter of ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif protesting against the Supreme Court verdict yesterday outside a court where Sharif arrived to face corruption charges in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's Supreme Court has barred former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from leading his political party, the latest setback for the embattled politician since his ouster from office last year.

Last October, Sharif's party, the governing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), succeeded in passing a law that allowed him to continue to lead the party despite a disputed court ruling last July that removed him from the prime minister's office.

Several opposition political parties then challenged the law, and on Wednesday, a three-member Supreme Court panel headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ruled that anyone disqualified from holding public office cannot lead a political party.

In his response after the verdict, current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the court order hindered democracy and relived past "dictatorial decisions".

Sharif was barred from office last July by the top court following a corruption probe into his family's finances, but was then re-elected by his party as PML-N president last October.

Despite the graft charges against him, across Pakistan's cities, Sharif's face dominates his party's campaign posters ahead of national elections due in five months. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Said Mr Abbasi, a Sharif loyalist picked by PML-N to replace Mr Sharif: "Such decisions never have strengthened democracy.

"The court has made a decision and we accept it. The masses themselves will respond to this verdict in the election or even before. The party has issued its stance that Nawaz Sharif is our leader."

In the ruling, Chief Justice Nisar wrote that all steps taken, orders passed, directions given and documents issued by Sharif after his disqualification last July are "also declared to have never been taken, passed, given or issued in the eyes of the law".

Sharif can ask the panel for a review of the decision, but that seems unlikely. The court ruling means that the coming senate election, scheduled for March 3, is likely to be delayed.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Pakistan court says Sharif can't head party'. Print Edition | Subscribe