Under the bill adopted yesterday, lawmakers cannot be disqualified for more than five years. The brother of the current prime minister has been in Great Britain since 2019 after he was banned forever from politics and given a seven-year prison sentence. This could play a role in the upcoming election. Meanwhile, the military continues its crackdown against Imran Khan's supporters.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's National Assembly approved a bill yesterday that limits the power of the country's courts to disqualify lawmakers to "a period not exceeding five years", a move some observers see as a prelude to the return of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and brother of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
The bill also empowers the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to unilaterally pick the date of elections without consulting the president. The current office holder, Arif Alvi, is a member of Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI), the party led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, at present in the opposition.
The passage of the law was made possible because Alvi is performing hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah (Saudi Arabia).
In 2017 Pakistan’s Supreme Court banned Nawaz Sharif from politics for life and sentenced him to seven years in prison in connection with one of his many corruption cases.
Two years later he managed to get bail for health reasons and flew to London, from where he has continued to lead the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
His brother Shehbaz became prime minister last year after the National Assembly ousted Imran Khan in a non-confidence after the latter fell out with Pakistan’s military (the real holder of power in the country according to experts).
Khan came to power in 2018 after almost a year of rule by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, chosen as Nawaz's successor because he was among the PML-N's best-known leaders and for his good ties with the military.
According to analyst Hasan Askari, it is clear that the bill was approved to let Nawaz come back. Nonetheless, while “His return will be very helpful for the party politically, [. . .] it’s not clear whether he himself will contest the election,” Askari explained.
Last week Abbasi and Sharif met in London. After the meeting, Abbasi told the media that there were no differences within the party. According to some unverified reports, the meeting was held because Abbasi had not been given a position within the PML-N.
Sharif later met in Dubai with the main leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father Asif Ali Zardari, part of the ruling coalition.
According to local sources, they discussed "important” issues, including Pakistan’s economic challenges and the upcoming general election set for October this year.
Meanwhile, the crackdown against Imran Khan's supporters continues in the wake of protests that broke out following his arrest on 9 May.
At the time, protesters targeted government and military facilities demanding the release of their leader, which then took place on order of the Supreme Court.
More recently, three senior army officers were fired for failing to stop violent attacks by PTI supporters, while more than 100 people arrested as a result of the protests are set to go before military courts, which human rights groups say do not guarantee a fair trial.
Since he lost power, Imran Khan has called for early elections, claiming that the government wants to kill him before the elections are held.
In March, a poll put his support among voters at more than 60 per cent with other political leaders at 30 per cent combined. However, Khan still faces scores of court cases.
Nawaz Sharif too is still involved in a number of lawsuits (just last week he was acquitted in a corruption case that goes back 37 years), but in Pakistan it has become an established practice that trials against politicians are dismissed once their party returns to power.