By Maria Amjad
On July 28, the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office, in a landmark decision on the Panama Papers case. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa headed the apex court’s implementation bench following its April 20 order on the Panama Papers case. He announced that the larger bench had unanimously deemed Sharif unfit for holding the office. It also ordered an accountability court to open investigations into money-laundering allegations against Sharif and his family.
Panama Papers—where it all began
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has made 11.5 million secret documents, famously known as the ‘Panama Papers’, available to the public for the first time. According to the documents, about 200 Pakistanis have been declared to have offshore companies. Out of these, eight offshore companies were reported to have links with the family of PM Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab.
As a result, the cricketer-turned-politician and Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Party, Imran Khan, started a nationwide campaign against the PM to pressurise him to resign.
The SC verdict and subsequent investigations
In November 2016, the SC ordered a judicial probe to investigate the Panama Papers scandal. After hearing the case for more than two months, a five-judge bench announced their verdict on April 20 with a 3-2 split decision and a 547-page judgment. The verdict declared that Sharif and his family had failed to justify how they accumulated their offshore assets.
However, the bench was divided on the decision to disqualify the Prime Minister over this verdict. Hence, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed to examine the money trail saga. The court asked Sharif and both his sons to appear before the JIT to answer questions regarding the ownership and possession of any assets that the JIT thinks is disproportionate to their known means of income. The SC asked the JIT to submit the final report on July 10.
Why was he disqualified?
After reading the JIT report, the SC bench disqualified Sharif from holding the public office in a 5-0 verdict. It also ordered an accountability court to open references into money-laundering allegations levelled against Nawaz and his family.
The court implies that Sharif has not been disqualified because of the alleged misappropriation of public funds revealed by the Panama Papers. Instead, the decision came because when contesting the 2013 elections, Sharif failed to declare that he was entitled to receive a salary from the Dubai-based firm Capital FZE, owned by his son. This fact, uncovered by the JIT investigations, was taken by the SC as sufficient evidence for declaring Sharif as ‘dishonest’, which, as per Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan, was enough to invalidate his membership of the National Assembly.
What do articles 62 and 63 say?
Under Article 62 and Article 63 of Pakistan’s Constitution, a person cannot qualify as a member of the national or the provincial legislatures if he is not “Sadiq and Ameen” (truthful and trustworthy).
These articles were introduced by the former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in March 1985 to exercise control over Pakistan’s elected representatives. As a part of Zia’s broader Islamisation drive, these clauses contained severe religious and moral overtones. But, they have rarely been applied because they are vague and subject to wide interpretations.
In fact, during the drafting of the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, there were discussions about amending these articles. However, it was turned down by Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), itself. Now, Sharif has become the first Prime Minister ever to have been disqualified under this law.
The future of democracy in Pakistan
Political experts have been divided over the implications of the decision on the democracy of the country. Many believe that this decision has further enervated the fragile democracy of the country. No democratically elected leader in Pakistan has been able to complete a five-year term in office since the country’s independence.
Others believe that Nawaz’s ouster will strengthen the democracy, as it is an unprecedented event that a sitting Prime Minister and his family have been required to explain the sources of their income and wealth in a country where politicians and top officials live beyond their means. They say that this verdict will be heralded for having paved the way for honest politicians and officials to run the state.
The PML-N remains influential
With the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, the political and legal landscape of Pakistan is under a deep review. But despite all the hyperbole, there is no threat to democracy as it is the PML-N that has chosen Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister and Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif as the new PM.
However, now that the SC has set a precedent in disqualifying a legislator on the basis of a misdeclaration in his nomination papers, the PML-N will swoop down on the papers of its opponents with a vengeance. It has already filed a case against Imran Khan for ‘concealing financial assets and offshore company’—the result of which is set to be announced on August 10.
Furthermore, the constantly shifting and malleable standards of what constitutes as ‘truthfulness’ and ‘trustworthiness’ mean that any elected leader could, at any point in time, be brought before a court and be disqualified on the basis of even the slightest lapses in moral judgment.
Featured Image Source: VisualHunt
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