Fervent rather panicky preparations are underway by the PML(N) spearheaded by fiery Maryam Nawaz Sharif to give a grand reception to Nawaz Sharif in their attempt to surpass and exceed the reception given to Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto when she disembarked at Lahore Airport in April 1986 and was received by over two million supporters drawn from the entire country. They are also trying to outperform Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto when she arrived at Karachi airport in 2007 and was received by over 250,000 supporters. Mr. Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to arrive at Lahore Airport on 21st October after over four years of stay in London on Bail which was granted only for a few months.
The Constitution has been and continues to be disregarded and overridden when deemed suitable by those in power, despite the requirement for a constitutional amendment with a 2/3 majority in parliament to make any specific changes. Regrettably, the Constitution, since the time of the PDM has lost its status, reduced to more of a notebook than a sacred textbook that it should be. This disregard began with flouting the Constitution’s express provisions, such as the Supreme Court’s directive to hold Punjab and KP assembly elections within 90 days.
In a decision with a 10-5 majority, the Chief Justice’s power to initiate Suo moto cases and form benches was stripped, allowing appeals against Suo moto cases. However, this decision doesn’t have a retrospective application, which means that individuals like Nawaz Sharif, Mr Jehangir Tareen and other parliamentarians disqualified for life by the Supreme Court won’t be able to appeal their disqualifications. This development has cast doubts on Nawaz Sharif’s chances of becoming Prime Minister for the fourth time and Jehangir Tareen’s ability to participate in upcoming elections. Adding to the complexity, the outgoing government has introduced an anomaly in the Election Act 2023, limiting disqualifications to a maximum of five years.
Proponents of Nawaz Sharif argue that this limits his and Jehangir Tareen’s disqualifications to five years, allowing them to contest elections. On the other hand, many believe that these legal changes have crushed the hopes of Nawaz Sharif’s fourth term as Prime Minister and Jehangir Tareen’s ambition to lead the IPP in upcoming elections. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions in Pakistan. For instance, the Supreme Court has allowed the retrospective application of laws that are curative or purely clarificatory in nature. Additionally, laws that are deemed necessary to protect the public interest may also be applied retrospectively. However, the right of appeal in the discussed scenario does not fall within these exceptions.
The fate of both Nawaz Sharif and Jehangir Tareen remains uncertain until the case is brought before the Supreme Court, a suitable bench is constituted by a three-member committee of the most senior judges, led by the Chief Justice, and the matters are adjudicated upon before the filing of nomination papers. This situation places the destinies of not only Nawaz Sharif and Jehangir Tareen but also numerous other parliamentarians in a state of ambiguity. In standard legal practice, if the Supreme Court is involved in a case regarding a candidate’s eligibility for contesting an election, the candidate can still submit nomination papers. However, the election presiding officer cannot accept these nomination papers until the Supreme Court issues its final order on the case. In an alternative scenario, if the Supreme Court confirms the candidate’s eligibility, the election presiding officer will accept the nomination papers, allowing the candidate to participate in the election.
Conversely, if the Supreme Court disqualifies a candidate, the election presiding officer will reject the nomination papers, barring the candidate from participating in the election. In a different scenario, candidates can file nomination papers, and their names may appear on the ballot, but if the Supreme Court disqualifies them before or after the election, they will be disqualified even if they secure victory.
For the PML(N), the first scenario is straightforward if Nawaz Sharif is absolved of his prior convictions, and his argument regarding the reduction of the disqualification period to five years is accepted. In this case, he would be eligible to run in the upcoming elections.
In the second scenario, if the Supreme Court upholds Nawaz Sharif’s lifelong disqualification, it poses a significant challenge for the PML(N). They would need to revise their narrative, which currently revolves around Nawaz Sharif as the sole saviour of Pakistan, implying that no other leader within the party or other political factions can resolve the nation’s challenges. This could trigger internal strife within the PML(N) as contenders vie for the premier position, with Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz emerging as prominent candidates. If this unfolds, the PML(N) risks transforming from a democratic party into one resembling hereditary rule.
This situation could prove advantageous for the PPP and potentially pave the way for Bilawal Bhutto to step into the void left by Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. However, it raises significant concerns about the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections and casts doubt on their credibility and legitimacy. This, in turn, exacerbates the country’s political, law and order, financial, and economic uncertainties.
It is in our paramount national interest that all political leaders can contest elections, and their acceptance or rejection should rest in the hands of the people through the power of their votes. This is a cornerstone of any well-functioning democracy. This transformation can only occur when we transcend our vested interests, cease the pursuit of ego-driven and divisive agendas, and, above all, respect our sacred social contract—the Constitution, which binds the people and the state. Many nations have ascended to the pinnacle of glory, and so can we. It’s high time that we rose as one nation, unleash our full potential, and reclaim our rightful place in the world.