What is next for the Sharif family?

Stay or go?

 

The opposition appears to have united to the extent that almost all major political parties are asking for the PM’s resignation. In fact, on Friday, all major opposition political parties held a joint conference to put pressure on Prime Minister Sharif with warnings that the ruling party should be held accountable if any violence and agitation broke out due to the latter’s insistence to stay in power

 

After the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) demining report, which clearly states that the Sharif family has been unable to establish that the money trail which was used to form companies abroad was legitimate and done through lawful means, opposition parties in the country are asking for the prime minister’s resignation. The ruling party has ruled out any chances of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offering his resignation. “JIT report rejected,” said Prime Minister Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, in a twitter message. Moreover, the ruling party has rejected the repot by calling it biased and suited to fulfill some mysterious forces interests that are active to undermine Pakistan’s economic progress, security and stability.

The opposition appears to have united to the extent that almost all major political parties are asking for the PM’s resignation. In fact, on Friday, all major opposition political parties held a joint conference to put pressure on Prime Minister Sharif with warnings that the ruling party should be held accountable if any violence and agitation broke out due to the latter’s insistence to stay in power despite JIT’s report that clearly implicates him in money laundering abroad.

What is obvious is that the coming weeks and months are going to be messy and violent as far as Pakistan’s political environment is considered. Every party is eyeing next general elections and in a bit to maximise chances of winning the incoming polls. All political stakeholders appear willing and ready to override, manipulate and bypass constitutional and institutional checks. Those checks also involve, agreeing with JIT’s report regardless of the nature of the verdict. The checks also mean agreeing to the Supreme Court’s final verdict which is likely to come soon based on the report of the JIT.

For the PML-N, agreeing to the report’s findings actually means accepting that the ruling party’s leadership and its immediate family have been involved in corruption. Moreover, what is also at stake here is Prime Minister Sharif’s own legacy: if Sharif was to resign due to what the report has said, it means he still remains a prime minister that was unable to finish his complete term in office even after coming to power three times. However, what if the Supreme Court asks for the same action? Will the prime minister resign or take the route of resistance, which involves calling out to his support base for assistance to neutralise surging opposition pressure.

So what does the ruling party needs to do to make sure that Sharif remains in power till the government completes its full term? Frankly, Sharif is not left with any strategic moves when it comes to fending off rising political and constitutional challenges. If one is to read into the language of the JITs report, it clearly says the PM needs to go home. While, previously, it has been tough for the Supreme Court when it comes to giving a clear judgment on the case due to number of limitation related to investigation. What should be alarming for the ruling party is the consideration that even with limitation that the highest court cited during its 3-2 verdict, the judgment was bad enough to discredit the party’s leadership. Now, however, with a report that overtly outlines what court had been struggling to substantiate, it’s going to be hard for the Supreme Court when it comes to going against the evidence that points toward nothing less than the resignation of a sitting prime minister.

While it remains to be seen what the court will decide, any verdict irrespective of political implications, should not be seen as the one given on behalf of one political party or the other. The court has already been under pressure from all political and other quarters and considering any decision of the court as political, should also amount to attacking the sovereignty of the institution.

So what does the ruling party need to do to make sure that Sharif remains in power till the government completes its full term? Frankly, Sharif is not left with any strategic moves when it comes to fending off rising political and constitutional challenges

It’s clear that opposition parties, except PTI, do not want elections right now, for none of the political parties appear ready as far as the next general elections are concerned. If elections were to take place tomorrow, the current ruling party should be expected to win, for the JIT may have built a negative narrative around the party’s leadership, PML-N still retains enough electoral heavyweights that can win elections for the party.

However, the opposition is looking to dampen Sharif’s electoral base by dividing the party. The only chance which PTI or other parties stand in this regard stems from opposition parties ability to chip away the ruling party political heavyweights. This could only happen if Sharif was forced into resignation, in process creating panic in the party’s ranks which should force midlevel and opportune sections of the party into considering other political options.

Whatever the case maybe, it’s likely that Prime Minister Sharif is not going to resin willingly irrespective of what it means for institution building, constitutional supremacy or democracy in the country. Political infighting among the country’s elites is likely to destroy the existing semblance of democracy in the country.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.



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