The ruling party has been left red-faced after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) dismissed disqualification references against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and his close aide Jehangir Tareen. Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan, in his short order, said that the references were not maintainable and did not qualify for hearing. The rejection of the references has brought huge embarrassment for the ruling party, especially National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, who had sent the case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, but withheld references against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The PTI has questioned has alleged biased approach and demanded he resign for not being able to maintain impartiality.
It is also a huge disappointment for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his team, who had allegedly forced the Speaker to forward the references against the PTI leaders to release pressure on the ruling family after the Supreme Court decided to hear the Panama Leaks. The PML-N attempted to use a state institution against the opposition to blackmail it, but the tactic failed. The ruling also proves that state institutions have started working independently and could not be used for the personal gain of the rulers.
The references had been filed with National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq by PML-N lawmakers in August last year. The Speaker had forwarded them to the ECP in September. The reference against Imran Khan mentioned his offshore company and properties abroad, income, and his alleged misstatements about his Bani Gala residence. It alleged that he had purchased a flat in London through an offshore company in 1983, but did not disclose it until 2016. Another allegation against him was about his Bani Gala residence, which he had declared to be a gift from his ex-wife. It also accused the PTI chief of keeping the ownership of his London apartment at 165-Draycott Avenue a secret until a tax amnesty scheme was announced by the government in 2000. The reference against Jahangir Tareen alleged that as a federal minister during the Musharraf regime, he had received a Rs101 million loan from the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) in the name of Tandlianwala Sugar Mills, which was later written off in 2005. “Jahangir Tareen concealed facts while submitting his nomination papers for the general elections in 2013 and by-elections in 2015,” the reference alleged.
The ruling party had submitted the references against the PTI leaders to the National Assembly Speaker only, which meant it was not optimistic about their outcome from the outset. If it thought the allegations against the PTI leaders were serious, it would have moved the ECP. Six references were filed with the National Assembly Speaker. Four of them sought disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan Justice Democratic Party of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also sent a reference to the Speaker via courier for disqualification of the prime minister under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution. However, the Speaker rejected the four references against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and forwarded the two against the PTI leaders to the ECP. It was expected that the Speaker would not take any action against anybody to maintain his impartiality. But he acted otherwise, only to malign his own image and office. If he was under pressure to forward the references against Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen, he could also send the references against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to save the honour of his office.
The PPP, PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) had filed disqualification references in the Elections Commission of Pakistan under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. In the references, the ECP was requested to unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, PM’s son-in-law Capt. (Retd) Safdar, MNA, and Punjab CM’s son Hamza Shahbaz, MNA. They said Nawaz Sharif had not only concealed his assets in the declaration, submitted to the ECP, but also committed perjury during an address in the parliament. Similarly, Ishaq Dar, Shahbaz Sharif, Safdar and Hamza Shahbaz concealed their assets both inside the country and abroad in their declarations to the ECP. There has also been a confessional statement from Dar about money laundering for Nawaz Sharif, they said.
The political parties had detected grave discrepancies and omissions in the nomination papers of the Sharif family. In his nomination papers in the 2013 election, the prime minister said he neither any of his dependents owned assets abroad and he named Maryam as his dependent. According to the Panama Papers, she is the sole owner of two offshore companies and a co-owner of one firm. In her tax returns for year 2013, Nawaz Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, declared shares worth millions in four companies. However, the prime minister did not mention it in his the nomination papers. According to experts, there were 40 points in nomination papers and tax returns of the family, which could render them ineligible to hold public office.
The ECP has also rejected the petition filed by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the Model Town case. The PAT pleaded that Nawaz Sharif had no moral grounds to be the prime minister after the Model Town massacre and he should be removed from his office. However, the ECP ruled that no action could be taken as the case was being heard by a criminal court. The ECP held few hearings on the petitions against the prime minister and his family and issued notices to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his relatives to respond to the allegations. However, it had to stop hearing the petitions after the Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the Panama Leaks. The ECP ruling has boosted the morale of the PTI and it expects a “favourable” verdict in the Panama case. It is a noteworthy achievement that the ruling family had to answer questions about its assets and wealth in the court and the ECP, which has never happened in Pakistan’s history.