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February 22, 2018

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SC declares Nawaz Sharif ineligible to head party

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday declared former prime minister Nawaz Sharif ineligible to continue as president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for being a disqualified person declared by a court of law and declared null and void all actions taken by the former prime minister in capacity of party leader. The apex court also ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to denotify Nawaz Sharif as president of the PML-N.

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In a swift compliance of the judgement, the ECP removed the name of Nawaz Sharif as the head of the ruling PML-N from the list of registered political parties. The Election Commission also directed the PML-N’s acting secretary general Ahsan Iqbal to elect an acting president within seven days and conduct party elections within 45 days to elect president of the party.

Earlier, the Supreme Court while nullifying all actions taken by Nawaz Sharif, ruled "all steps taken, orders passed, directions given and documents issued by the Respondent No.4 (Nawaz Sharif) as party head after his disqualification on July 28, 2017 are declared to have never been taken, passed, given or issued in the eyes of the law."

However, legal circles are of the view that the election to the Senate will not be disturbed through this judgment, because the nominees of the PML-N in the given circumstances will be considered as independent candidates as their nomination papers have already been accepted by the ECP on the touchstone of articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Umer Ata Bandyal and Justice Ijazul Ahsen, announced the verdict, reserved earlier on the identical petitions challenging the controversial Election Act, 2017 that had paved the way for Nawaz Sharif to become the head of the PML-N. As many as 13 identical petitions were filed in the Supreme Court including that of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed of the Awami Muslim League (AML) as well as Zulfikar Ahmed Bhutta, Advocate, challenging the controversial Election Act, 2017.

The short order announced by Justice Saqib Nisar declared "any person who suffers from lack of qualification under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution is debarred from holding the position of ‘party head’ by whatever name called and prohibited from exercising any of the powers provided in Article 63-A of the Constitution, as ‘party head’ or any other power in the said capacity under any law, rule, regulation, statute, instrument or document of any political party." The court held that "such bar and prohibition shall commence from the date of disqualification and continue till such time that the lack of qualification/disqualification of such person continues in terms of the provisions of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution."

“As a result of the above declaration, all steps taken, orders passed, directions given and documents issued by Respondent No.4 (Nawaz Sharif) as party head after his disqualification on July 28, 2017 are also declared to have never been taken, passed, given or issued in the eyes of the law,” said the order.

On the qualifications and duties of the party leader, the court ruled that under Article 63-A, "the position of party head of a political party that has representation in, inter alia, the Parliament, has a central role in the performance of duties by the Members of the Parliament. For rendering such a role, a party head must necessarily possess the qualifications and be free of the disqualifications contemplated in Articles 62 and 63. The Election Act, 2017 empowers a party head to perform multifarious functions that have direct nexus with the process of elections to the Parliament and to matters relating to the affairs of political parties having parliamentary presence.”

The court, while allowing the identical petitions, held that detailed reasons will be recorded later. “It is held and declared that provisions of Sections 203 and 232 of the Election Act, 2017 are liable to be read, construed and interpreted subject to the provisions of Articles 62, 63 and 63-A of the Constitution,” said the order.

Defining Article 17 of the Constitution, the court said it "grants every citizen the fundamental right to form associations subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order and or morality.

“An elected Parliament, adorned with the chosen representatives of people on the one hand and the rule of law on the other hand are the foundations of democracy under the Constitution,” the court ruled.

Emphasising the importance of integrity and high morals for the MPs, the apex court verdict referred to articles 62, 63 and 63-A, saying they "create an integrated framework for ensuring that business of the Parliament is conducted by persons of probity, integrity and high moral character. These conditions are enforced by Articles 62 & 63 of the Constitution by prescribing qualifications and disqualifications for membership to the Parliament,” said the order, adding all laws pertaining to the election to Parliament and to participation in the proceedings thereof are to be read subject to such constitutional provisions in the exercise of the rights guaranteed by Article 17 of the Constitution.

Earlier, the apex court had reserved its judgment on the pleas, challenging the Election Act, 2017, which paved the way for Nawaz Sharif to become the party head. Meanwhile, commenting over the judgment, former high court judge Shah Khawar said the election to Senate will not be disturbed because the nominees of the PML-N in the given circumstances will be considered as independent candidates since their nomination papers have been accepted by the ECP on the touchstone of Article 62 and 63. “If they are elected as independent candidates, then they have the option after the result of the election to join the parliamentary party of PML-N in the Upper House,” Shah Khawar said.

Our correspondent adds: In the light of the Supreme Court judgement, the ECP has removed the name of Nawaz Sharif as the head of the ruling PML-N from the list of registered political parties.

On receiving the judgment, the ECP underwent deliberations and ordered compliance of the apex court verdict. The removal will have a retrospective effect from July 28, 2017. Alongside with it, the Election Commission wrote a letter to the PML-N’s acting secretary general Ahsan Iqbal to elect an acting president of the party within seven days and conduct party elections within 45 days to elect the president of the party.

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