Nawaz Sharif’s downfall is a triumph for his opponent, Imran Khan, but the same legal weapons may be used against him, writes Rahimullah Yusufzai
The recent ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power has been described as the biggest success in the 20-year political career of Pakistan’s one-time cricketing hero, Imran Khan.
It was primarily thanks to his unrelenting campaign against Sharif, both within and outside the courtroom, that his main political rival lost his job, and now facesa long legal battle against serious charges of corruption and misuse of power. Though the former PM has continued to hold big public rallies to show his political strength and his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), remains in power, his disqualification has brought Imran Khan one step closer to his cherished goal of becoming prime minister.
Few had thought that Sharif would be disqualified fromoffice by the Supreme Courtunder articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution,which demands that members of parliament should be ‘Sadiq’ (truthful) and ‘Ameen’ (trustworthy). The corruption charges against him, stemming from the Panama Papers leaks, have yet to be proved, and the Supreme Court verdictis seen by his supporters and some lawyers as a judicial coup.
The unanimous finding of the five judges is more than 7,000 words long and highly technical. Itfound Sharif guilty of failing to disclose 10,000 dirhams (about $2,700) in salary from his son’s United Arab Emirates-based firm, Capital FZE, in his nomination papers for contesting the May 2013 general election – even though he was never actually paid the money.
The operative part of the judgement read:‘It has not been denied that respondent No. 1 [Sharif] being Chairman of the Board of Capital FZE was entitled to salary, therefore, the statement that he did not withdraw the salary would not prevent the un-withdrawn salary from being receivable, hence an asset. When the un-withdrawn salary as being receivable is an asset it was required to be disclosed by respondent No. 1 in his nomination papers for the Elections of 2013 in terms of Section 12(2)(f) of the ROPA. Where respondent No. 1 did not disclose his aforesaid assets, it would amount to furnishing a false declaration on solemn affirmation in violation of the law mentioned above, therefore, he is not honest in terms of Section 99(1)(f) of the ROPA and Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’
Constitutional articles 62 and 63 have always been intensely debated, and the controversy was renewed after Sharif’s disqualification.The ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’ clause, as article 62 (1) (f) is commonly known, was introduced in 1973 by the military dictator, General Ziaul-Haq, when his regime tried to Islamise the legal system and ensure that his political opponents were shunted out of electoral politics.
The relevant clause reads: ‘A person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) unless he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, sadiq and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law.’
Ironically, Sharif’s PML-N opposed removal of articles 62 and 63 from the Constitution during the 2008 to 2013 rule of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by President Asif Ali Zardari, spouse of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Other parties had argued without success that these articles were vague and impractical, and ought to be removed. Now Sharif has become the first senior politician to have been removed under them.
Another irony is that Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who headed the five-member Supreme Court bench that disqualified the Prime Minister, had calledthe words ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’ obscure and impracticable while hearing another case two years ago. He had also spoken of the ‘nightmares of interpretation and application that they involved’.
According to Justice Khosa: ‘Clause (f) of Article 62 of the Constitution provides a feast of legal obscurities … (They) relate to a man’s state of mind and cannot be properly encompassed… why have such requirements in… the Constitution which cannot even be defined?’ Despite these observations, he justified enforcing the clause against Sharif because it was part of the Constitution, and had not been undone by democratically elected parliaments.
Since the removal of its leader, the PML-N is now spearheading the effort to amend articles 62 and 63. The party’s law and justice minister, Zahid Hamid, said during a recent session of the National Assembly that its committee on electoral reforms would recommend the amendments after building consensus on the issue. He also wanted an amendment to article 62, specifying how long a member of parliament would remain disqualified. Presently it is vague on this point.
It will be an uphill task, however, to achieve political consensus on amending the two articles. Islamic political parties, including the two biggest ones, Jamaat-i-Islami and JUI-F, have pledged to oppose the amendments,threateningto use their considerable streetpower to foil any such attempt. Seeking to rally support from devout Muslims, they have portrayed the campaign to change the Constitution as an attempt to weaken its Islamic character.
Imran Khan too has swung his Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) party strongly against the PML-N move. Though he had been critical of the articles in past media interviews, he now wants them to remain part of the Constitution,even ifthey are used to disqualify him. The PML-N and his other opponents are seeking to achieve just that, bringing up his colourful playboy past, as well as funds received by his party from overseas donors.
Though Khan is determined to win the June 2018 general election, it will not be easy for him. His party is strong in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it is in power after winning the province in the 2013 general election, and in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, which determines the winner in the national polls. However, the PTI has been unable to gain support in Sindh, the stronghold of the PPP, and Balochistan, where nationalist Pakhtun and Baloch parties have a following.
Also, Nawaz Sharif remains strong in Pakistani politics, particularly in Punjab, where his younger brother Shahbaz is chief minister, earning praise as a tough administrator and architect of major development projects. Shahbaz is poised to take over as Prime Minister as soon as he can win his brother’s parliamentary seat; Shahid Khawan Abbasi, chosen by the PML-N to hold the post in the meantime, regularly seeks guidance from the deposed premier on issues ranging from selecting the cabinet to running Pakistan’s foreign policy.
With the PPP on the decline and confined largely to Sindh, there is no doubt that the PTI has emerged as the main opposition to the PML-N. But while Imran Khan’s star is definitely on the rise, it is too early to predict that he will become prime minister of Pakistan – even if he is found to be ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’.