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National

February 15, 2018

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Forthcoming developments to have bearing on Nawaz, politics

ISLAMABAD: Judicial verdicts to be handed down most likely in the first fortnight of March and other key developments taking place during this period will have a great bearing on ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and national politics with a particular reference to the forthcoming general elections.

An accountability court of Islamabad, which is hearing four references against the ex-premier, Maryam, Hussain, Hassan and former finance minister Ishaq Dar, is expected to announce its judgment(s) in the first half of the next month. Judge Muhammad Bashir retires on March 12, and it is widely believed that he will deliver his decision(s) before his tenure expires.

Precisely when the likely rulings will be given, the election of new senators and their chairman will be arranged. It is anybody’s guess how far this process specifically the election of the Upper House chief on March 12 will be impacted by the impending rulings. Polling for the Senate will be held on March 3.

Considering the sure final tally of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) which will make it the largest party in the Senate, it is going to get its nominee elected as the chairman with the support of its allies while the number of senators of any other parliamentary party will be far less than its strength after the upcoming electoral process.

Amid the election to the Senate and its chairman, there will also come two important judgments from the Supreme Court apart from the accountability court verdicts. The top court’s rulings will adjudge the petitions seeking determination of the period of disqualification of lawmakers and whether an ineligible person can hold a party office. The former prime minister is not a party to the two cases.

In one instance, seventeen disqualified legislators argue that Article 62(1(f) of the Constitution be interpreted to decide whether the disqualification of a legislator provided in the provision is for life or time-specific. Nawaz Sharif is not included among them. A five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, seized with these pleas, asked him and all and sundry interested in the proceedings to associate themselves with hearings.

However, the ex-premier refused to become party saying that he would have objected to the inclusion of Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan in the present bench because they had spoken their mind in the Panama judgment, had he decided to join the proceedings,.

He stated that he consulted his party leadership as the matter is of far reaching consequences relating to the body politics of Pakistan. Since the court has taken up the matter on the motion of many other aggrieved parties, having stakes in this interpretation, his joining of the proceedings at this juncture may prejudice their cases. His argument was that as taking part in the election process was a fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution, no perpetual disqualification could be imposed on someone by interpreting the Article 62(1)(f). A time limit of disqualification could have been provided by Parliament but since it has not been done so, it is confined only to the election in question [2013]. He argued that being a strong proponent of democracy he believes that it is the right of the people of Pakistan to participate in the election process and to reject or elect candidates of their choice. The people enjoy an inalienable right to elect their representatives through a true democratic process and not be given the list of selective people through the process of elimination.

The apex court has now reserved its verdict on Article 62(1)(f), which may be announced before the passage of one month, the timeframe fixed by the chief justice for all judges to announce their decisions.

His plea on his reelection as the PML-N president was that this was not his decision but was that of the party. Therefore, it is a matter between the PML-N and Parliament (which enacted the law providing for the election of a disqualified person as party office bearer). The PML-N associated itself with the proceedings and Salman Akram Raja, advocate, argued on its behalf.

Regardless of the fact that Nawaz Sharif did not become part of the judicial process on Article 62(1(f) and vires of section 203 of the Election Act, 2017, which provided for his reelection, he can’t escape its fallout. Section 203 was the unique provision that the National Assembly approved twice – once while passing the Elections Act in totality and then while rejecting an amendment of the opposition parties seeking its repeal.

Even before the judgments from the highest judicial forum and the accountability court, powerful efforts are on to build maximum pressure on Nawaz Sharif to relent. This was also exerted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) when it approached the interior ministry to put the names of the ex-premier and Maryam on the Exit Control List (ECL) and filed two supplementary references in support of the previous cases.

The former prime minister will be present in the accountability court on the day of announcement of judgment. The ECL is used only when there are apprehensions that an accused may run away from Pakistan to avoid an investigation or a judicial process. This is not so in the present case.

Nawaz Sharif has held discussions with the top PML-N leaders in the wake of adverse decisions in the references and chalked out his future course of action following his resultant arrest due to conviction.

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