Islamabad: Nawaz Sharif on Friday resigned as Pakistan Prime Minister after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office and ruled that graft cases be filed against the beleaguered leader and his children over the Panama Papers scandal.
It is the third time the 67-year-old veteran politician’s term as premier has been cut short. The much-awaited verdict plunged Pakistan into a political crisis at a time when the country is facing a brittle economy and a surge in militancy.
As the unanimous verdict by the five-judge bench was read out by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan inside the packed Courtroom 1 of the Supreme Court, a large number of opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf workers celebrated outside.
The court disqualified Sharif under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The articles state that a Member of Parliament should be “truthful” and “righteous”.
“He is disqualified as a member of the parliament so he has ceased to be holding the office of prime minister,” Justice Khan said. The court ordered the Election Commission to issue a notification for Sharif’s disqualification.
The court verdict said that having furnished a false declaration under solemn affirmation, Sharif was “not honest” under the terms of the Constitution.
Sharif has maintained that there has not been any wrongdoing on his part.
Following the court verdict, state-run PTV reported that Sharif had quit. It also reported that the government has accepted the verdict despite having serious reservations over it.
A Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson also said in a statement that the decision of the apex court would be implemented although, he claimed that new precedents were set during the course of the case which have not been seen in the country’s history.
The spokesperson said all legal and constitutional options would be exercised regarding the party’s reservations over the judgement.
The Supreme Court also ordered the National Accountability Bureau to start a corruption case against Sharif, his sons – Hussain and Hassan – and his daughter Maryam.
The Supreme Court ordered that the cases against them be registered within six weeks and trial be completed within six months after registration of the cases.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Sharif’s trusted aide, and Captain Muhammad Safdar, who is Sharif’s son-in-law and a Member of the National Assembly (MNA), also stood disqualified from office, Radio Pakistan reported.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s leading opposition leader and a petitioner in the Panama case, hailed the verdict.
“It’s the result for a united struggle that we are seeing this day today,” the cricketer-turned-politician said.
“It is a moment of joy for whole of Pakistan because for the first time the Supreme Court has disqualified the most powerful man in Pakistan, who has been ruling for 30 years.
Imran also announced that in order to celebrate the verdict, a massive rally will be held here on Sunday.
In a swipe at Sharif, the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf tweeted, “Godfather’s Rule has ended for good! Truth & Justice have prevailed!”
Pakistan’s former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf, who has been living in Dubai since last year when he was allowed to leave Pakistan on the pretext of medical treatment, congratulated the entire nation on the court’s decision.
“It’s a good decision. The entire nation is jubilantly distributing sweets,” he was quoted by Geo News as saying.
This is the third time the prime minister, known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’, has been unable to complete his term as premier. However, it was unclear who would take over the post till the next general elections, scheduled for 2018.
Reacting to Sharif’s disqualification, his daughter Maryam said he would make a forceful comeback.
“Another elected Prime Minister sent home, but only to see him return with greater force & support & soonest Insha’Allah (God willing),” tweeted Maryam, who is being carefully groomed by her father as his political heir.
“Today will pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s resounding victory in 2018. He will be unstoppable…Rok sakte ho to rok lo! (stop him if you can),” the 43-year-old leader said in a series of tweets.
Former information minister Marryium Aurangzeb also said that Sharif would make a comeback for the fourth time soon.
“We are disappointed by the court decision, but in Pakistan’s historical context it is not surprising,” she said.
Aurangzeb said that the ruling PML-N is still the largest party of Pakistan, and people have brought back Sharif with a bigger majority whenever he was removed.
“There is no charge of corruption of public money against Sharif,” she said.
She said that the PML-N would soon announce its future course of action.
The verdict means that yet another Pakistani premier has failed to complete a five-year term.
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term with their tenures cut short by the military, the judiciary or in ouster by their own parties, whether from forced resignation – or assassination.
It is the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that the Supreme Court has disqualified a sitting prime minister.
In 2012, then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a graft case against then-president Asif Ali Zardari.
The Panama Papers scandal is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in the 1990s, when he twice served as prime minister, to purchase assets in London. The assets surfaced when the Panama Papers leak last year revealed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif’s children.
The assets include four expensive flats in London.
Sharif has been the prime minister of Pakistan for a record three times. He leads Pakistan’s most powerful political family and the ruling PML-N party.
A steel tycoon-cum-politician, Sharif had served as Pakistan’s prime minister for the first time from 1990 to 1993. His second term, from 1997, was ended in 1999 by the then-army chief Gen. Parvez Musharraf in a bloodless coup.
The five-judge bench that issued today’s verdict comprised Justices Asif Saeed Khosa, Ejaz Afzal Khan, Gulzar Ahmed, Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Ijazul Ahsan.
The Supreme Court took up the case on November 3 last year on petitions filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Awami Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami. It held 35 hearings spanning over 132 hours before concluding proceedings on February 23 and issuing its 547-page split judgement on April 20.
Following that the court set up a six-member joint investigation team (JIT) in May with a mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used to buy the properties named in the leak. The JIT submitted its report on July 10.
It said that the lifestyle of Sharif and his children was beyond their known sources of income and recommended filing a new corruption case against them.
Sharif dismissed the report as a “bundle of baseless allegations” and refused to quit, despite demands to do so from several quarters.
On July 21, the court reserved its verdict after concluding the hearing.