People, especially politicians, in the West at least resign when they are even accused of moral or financial corruption. But the situation is entirely different in Pakistan, where the ruling party is celebrating the passage of a law, which allows former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to become the party head despite being disqualified by the Supreme Court for corruption, fraud, concealment of facts and forgery.
The law, passed by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on the back of its absolute majority in the National Assembly, indicates how Pakistani rulers can use their political parties for personal gains and how legislators ignore morality and interests of their country to pass laws, which are against the basic concept of democracy. The law means that even a terrorist and a serial killer can form a political party and control it from behind bars even after their conviction. The law even allows bank defaulters to contest elections. The ruling party leaders and ministers daily give lectures to people on values and benefits of democracy on TV, but can they tell the people of Pakistan if such a law has ever been passed in any democracy of the world? Is it even possible to draft it in a real democracy?
Earlier, the National Assembly rejected a bill with a simple majority, seeking to amend the Election Act, 2017, that had paved the way for Nawaz Sharif’s re-election as president of the PML-N despite his disqualification in the Panama case. The bill was rejected after 163 members of the government and its allies voted against the proposed change in legislation against 98 votes of the opposition parties. Earlier this year, the PML-N had managed to pass the Elections Act, 2017, by the Senate and then the National Assembly to allow Nawaz Sharif to head the PML-N after his disqualification. The government and its allies numbered 213, with the PML-N 188, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl 13, PML-Functional 5, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party 3, National Peoples Party 2, PML-Zia 1 and National Party 1. The opposition parties’ numbers were: PPP 47, PTI 33, Muttahida Qaumi Movement 24, Jamaat-e-Islami 4, Awami National Party 2, PML-Quaid 2, Balochistan National Party 1, Qaumi Watan Party 1, All Pakistan Muslim League 1 and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan 1.
The government managed to defeat the opposition’s move at a time when there were rumours of massive defections in the ruling party. However, the whole process was overseen by the former prime minister. It was also not an appropriate time for those who are ready to jump ship. They are expected to take a decision after Nawaz Sharif and his family will be jailed in a few months. Punjab Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif and his son Hamza will also be in serious trouble after the reopening of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering case. The Minhajul Quran massacre report can also see the light of day anytime. Seeing all the Sharif family in jail, many would defect to other parties for their safe future. According to PTI Chairman Imran Khan, the ousted prime minister had offered Rs94 billion in bribes to 163 Members of the National Assembly to attend the session and defeat the opposition’s bill.
The law only aims to belittle and humiliate the Supreme Court of Pakistan for its ruling against the Sharif family in the Panama case. It was neither a requirement of the state or the nation, but specific to a person for his personal gains. Many dictators have ruled the country for almost half of its history, but no one passed such a law. It is also a matter of shame for all those who voted for it. They betrayed the people of Pakistan and democracy. Accountability and merit are two important pillars of democracy, and the new law violates both. When the highest court of the country has disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding any public office, how can he head a party which is more important than holding a public office? If he cannot become an MNA, MPA or even a councilor, how can he head a party? These are basic questions which the Supreme Court of Pakistan will take up shortly. It is highly likely that the court will strike the law down.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has already admitted petitions against the law for regular hearing, which has panicked the ruling party, which alleged “shoulders of the judiciary are being used for a nefarious agenda.” On October 22, Pakistan Chief Justice Saqib Nisar overruled objections raised by the Apex Court’s registrar office to petitions against the Election Act 2017, and admitted them to determine their maintainability and legal aspects. The registrar had asked the applicants, including Imran Khan and Sheikh Rashid, to approach a proper forum before moving the court. Reacting to it, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said, “Lawmaking is the right of the parliament but some anti-people and anti-democracy elements take every political issue to the Supreme Court. They have a negative approach and want to pitch the court against the masses.” He requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan to check the move of the anti-democracy forces and reject the petitions.
The former prime minister appears to be more aggressive after defeating the opposition’s move. His criticism of the judiciary and establishment has become harsher. His daughter said it was a “golden day” in Pakistan’s history when the parliamentarians had voted against the bill by defeating “fear and pressures” (from the establishment). On the other hand, PTI Chairman Imran Khan lashed out at the ruling party lawmakers for rejecting the bill, saying “their only purpose in the parliament is to protect the Sharif mafia’s corruption. It is a terrible and demoralising message to the nation. All PMLN MNAs should hang their heads in shame for making a farce out of our democracy.”
Even if the Supreme Court restrained itself from repealing the law, it will not benefit the former prime minister for long, as all cases against him will be decided by January 28, 2018. He will be in jail even before it. However, he has provided huge development funds on his legislators from Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi and they could remain loyal to him even after his detention. His legislators from the rest of the Punjab will leave him. The absence of his 26 MNAs, despite all possible efforts and offers, from the National Assembly, is the writing on the wall.