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August 1st, 2017

“The Supreme Court decision could reverse the progress Pakistan has made on democratic consolidation over the past decade” – Rafiullah Kakar

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Editor

August 1st, 2017

“The Supreme Court decision could reverse the progress Pakistan has made on democratic consolidation over the past decade” – Rafiullah Kakar

2 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Following the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s unanimous decision to disqualify Nawaz Sharif from office, Sonali Campion interviewed Rafiullah Kakar about the implications for democracy in Pakistan.

 SC: Could you give me an overview of what has happened, and why this has led to Nawaz Sharif standing down?

RK: In the wake of the Panama Papers leaks a case was filed against the Prime Minister in the Supreme Court due to his family’s links with offshore accounts. The investigation then passed it on to a Joint Investigation Team in April, which submitted its report and on Friday the Supreme Court made its decision to disqualify Nawaz Sharif.

The interesting thing is that he wasn’t disqualified on the grounds of corruption or money laundering, which has been the subject of intense debate for six months. Instead the Supreme Court disqualified him for failing to declare his salary of AED 10,000 from Capital FZE – which he did not withdraw – in his 2013 nomination papers. That was the only ground taken by the Supreme Court for disqualifying an elected prime minister. Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which have never been strictly implemented before, basically say that elected representatives should fulfil the criteria of being ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’ i.e. truthful and honest. This goes far beyond financial corruption, it is a very broad and expansive definition.

Would you say what has happened is positive or negative for democracy in Pakistan?

I think the judgement over all is likely to have negative implications for democratic consolidation in Pakistan. It’s not the same as a military coup. The damage to democracy is certainly less than what happens in the case of a direct coup but it is damaging nevertheless.

First, the precedent of disqualifying elected representatives on the basis of Article 62 and 63 can cause chaos in the parliamentary realm. The criteria are so wide and open that it could be used to disqualify almost any representative.

Secondly, this decision will make the Parliament and the office of the Prime Minister weak and vulnerable. I don’t think it is unfair to argue that the judiciary overstepped its bounds.

Lastly, there is a risk that this decision could reverse whatever little progress we have made in terms of democratic consolidation in recent years. It could take us back to the 1990s when the politicians were at each other’s throats and the military exploited that situation to their advantage. So to sum it up, I think the judgement is likely to hurt Pakistan’s fragile democratic setup.

Image: Nawaz Sharif on an official visit to the UK in 2014. Credit: Number 10/Crown Copyright

As a way forward, I think the PML-N should learn lessons and move on. They had a chance to get rid of Articles 62 and 63 a couple of years ago but they squandered that opportunity. Now, it’s time for them to revisit this issue and get rid of them. They should elect another prime minister, complete their tenure, and hold proper elections next year on schedule. If that smooth transition of power takes place at the next election, it will be a positive outcome. It will also send out a message that political parties and the larger democratic process aren’t dependent on one or two individuals.

Do you think the fact that elections are due next year reduces the likelihood of instability and military intervention?

Give the history of military and politics in Pakistan it is really difficult to predict. One thing that can be said is that the military is unlikely to intervene directly. They have adapted to the changing realities, and their modus operandi is now indirect rule. For example, they have established fair control over electronic and press media and so on. A weak and divided Parliament helps the military’s cause.

What the security establishment can do is exploit weakening civilian/popular political forces to create space for their own favoured parties and politicians. So while we may not see a direct military intervention, it may try to influence things indirectly, which means that the next year is going to be an eventful, and potentially turbulent, one. 

Are there wider implications for Pakistani politicians beyond Sharif?

In one sense, the judgement is unlikely to change much in Pakistan. It was basically an ugly fight for power between the ruling elites of ‘mainland Pakistan’ (i.e. Punjab). The lives of people in peripheral Pakistan such as Balochistan and FATA will remain unaffected by it. The criminal justice system will remain flawed and the endemic culture of abuse of power and authority will continue. The idea of holding a Prime Minister accountable for his income sources was a well intentioned and therefore the JIT’s investigation was initially welcomed by many quarters. However, it appears as if it was less about accountability and more about getting rid of the PM at any cost. The judgment won’t mark the beginning of a new era of across the board accountability. For example, the big and powerful players such as the military are unlikely to be held accountable.

In addition, as I said before, the fact that Nawaz Sharif was disqualified on the grounds of Article 62, rather than for corruption or something more specific, is potentially very problematic because literally more than half the current parliament and members of the provincial assemblies could be disqualified on the same grounds as the Prime Minister. If Article 62 is taken seriously and pursued to its ultimate conclusion an entire political class could be purged. Taken in the context of Pakistani politics, sceptics would argue that this would create a vacuum, which would likely be filled by non-democratic forces.

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.

About the Authors

Rafiullah Kakar is a Rhodes Scholar and an alumnus of the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. He is now on the Commonwealth Young Professionals Programme. All views are expressed here in a personal capacity.

 

Sonali Campion is Communications and Events Officer at the South Asia Centre. She holds a BA (Hons) in History from the University of Oxford and an MSc in Comparative Politics from LSE. She tweets @sonalijcampion

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