The end of an affair

Despite the verdict against Nawaz Sharif and his family, the elder Sharif’s earlier disqualification on Aqama, read Panama, irregularities created opportunities for political parties to present new narratives. The bye-elections race was ablaze with new fervor by political wielders and the masses alike.

These circumstances lent a semblance of an ideological split within the country—between some who view the situation as a threat to democracy by kingmakers and others who want to be rid of the decades-long dynastic politics—raising questions about the integrity of democracy in Pakistan.

The contrarians on either side of the polemic worry whether the emaciated democracy would ever be able to stand without its proverbial clutches and be independent, while wondering, if the promise of change is substantial or a case of old wine in new bottles.

What political historians would urge us to do is to look at the circumstances in perspective. To an onlooker, Pakistan’s political landscape seems most volatile: the national institutions are up in arms against each other; the country suffers from international isolation as friends and foes exert pressure on the country, while the national kitty dwindles precariously. Analysts fear that they haven’t seen so much chaos in years.

In 2017, Transparency International ranked Pakistan 117 from amidst 180 countries. But we have seen more: the figures were record high in 2005, resting at 144. The instability and corruption within the ruling and administrative elite was always rife in Pakistan, but no one has been able to question it with such resolve until now. Within the ideological split are found such patriots who, for lack of faith in democratic institution, would call upon the army to rescue the country. Even the opposition leaders referred to the umpire during their agitation, beseeching their blessings and support.

Whatever the case, the ousting of the PML-N premier may have boosted his party popularity more than damaging his credibility. His opponents know that. An effort is afoot to cleanse the Punjab’s administrative elite of wrongdoing and show the PML-N seniors, i.e., Shahbaz Sharif, the door. Judiciary has become a major game-changer, and has become vociferous against the ills of power.

The recent verdict by the Supreme Court (SC) disqualified Nawaz Sharif, barring him from party premiership. However, the Court’s verdict did not quite enunciate the duration of disqualification of the ex-PM beyond allusions. Moreover, the emphasis on article 62 and 63 raises complications owing to its vagueness.

Under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, a person cannot qualify as member of the national or provincial legislatures, if he is not ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ – truthful and trustworthy. During General Zia’s era, these terms were included in these articles, and Nawaz Sharif opposed their removal during the 18th Amendment. Three years ago, during a hearing, Justice Khosa had reportedly called the terms as obscure and impracticable; owing to the ‘nightmares of interpretation and application they involved. He foresaw that these articles of the Constitution were also meant to be enforced against those who enjoyed popular support and endorsement.

Nawaz has become the first prime minister to be disqualified under the very laws he defended. The court did not think prudent to take article 17, freedom of association, into account that guarantees every Pakistani’s right to form or join a political party.

After the recent verdict all actions the Nawaz took since his disqualification, last year, became null and void. Consequently, the future of the party’s Senate ticket holders became unclear until the Election Commission of Pakistan, ECP, directed the PML-N nominated candidates to contest as independent candidates. The move has been seen with suspicion by political quarters within PML-N as opportunities to encourage horse-trading by the elected independents candidates.

Finally, it is yet to be seen whether Nawaz Sharif’ three-decade long political affair comes to an end this year and what opportunities are borne out of the recent elections for Pakistan’s democracy.

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