Buck should not stop at Nawaz

The apex court handed down its judgment sending the prime minister home, the country finds itself at crossroads

Editorial July 29, 2017
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: REUTERS / FILE

There were scenes of celebrations by opposition parties across most of the TV channels in the hours after the Supreme Court delivered its landmark verdict in the Panamagate case. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, leader of the party that bears his name, has been disqualified. This is the third time he has failed to complete a constitutional tenure. It is now for parliament to select by election a new prime minister. The SC found that the PM and his family had assets whose origins they could not satisfactorily explain and which exceeded their known income. After all the Grand Guignol of the previous weeks and months the matter of ownership of Avenfield flats and alleged corruption on the part of the PM – there was no mention in the judgment.

What cost the PM his job was that he failed to disclose his earnings from his employment in a UAE-based offshore company called Capital FZE. He should have declared the earnings in his 2013 nomination papers and he did not. That was enough to see his ouster and the thousands of pages of ‘evidence’ and the countless hours of hearings over the last nine months withered to something of an irrelevance. The documents supporting the PM’s chairmanship of FZE are in the public domain and thus far undisputed. On that basis the SC found that the PM “is no more eligible to be an honest member of parliament, and he ceases to be holding the office of the prime minister”.

What follows now is a period of uncertainty once the media circus has run out of steam and headlines. All political leaders are open to criticism and Sharif is no different — His government had not tamed circular debt or fixed the power crisis. As a leader he often appeared insipid. His conduct of international relations was halting at best. All that and more, but despite a basket of flaws the Sharif government kept the country more or less head to wind and perceptions of failed state receded.

As the apex court has handed down its judgment sending the elected prime minister home, the country finds itself at a crossroads. Given how gargantuan the security challenges are, it can scarcely afford political instability or economic meltdown. If Sharif’s party chooses to play the victim card and takes the matter to the public, it could entail just that — unending chaos. The only sagacious course for Sharif is to submit to the Supreme Court ruling with grace, and all indications are that he has. If he had not, the law of the jungle, to borrow the diction of his close aide Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, would have prevailed. Going into the protest mode and whipping up rabid sentiments on the street was bound to make matters worse. The ruling party will serve its interest best if it exhausts all legal avenues open to it for a redress. It clearly has an option to go for a review of the court verdict even as it installs Sharif’s replacement as the stop-gap prime minister. At the same time, the process of accountability, beginning with the unseating of the sitting premier, must cast its net wider and be across the board. At least, the other characters named in the trove of Panama Papers, no matter which party they belong to, should also be investigated, so that justice is done and seen to have been done.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2017.

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