Pakistan’s Supreme Court removes poll bar on Sharif brothers

ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court Tuesday allowed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif to contest elections, paving the way for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to return to the federal government.

A five-judge bench headed by Justice Tassadaq Hussain Jilani passed the order on the May 11 review petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, contesting their poll disqualification respectively in a plane hijacking case and corruption case respectively.

It is an independent verdict of an independent judiciary, Nawaz Sharif said at a crowded press conference in Lahore soon after the court delivered its verdict.

I don’t have the details (of the verdict), but it proves that the judiciary in Pakistan is free, Sharif added.

I always had good expectations from the judiciary, he maintained.

The Supreme Court had Feb 25 barred the Sharif brothers from contesting elections and holding office, a decision that led to Shahbaz Sharif immediately stepping down as the chief minister of Punjab province.

The elder Sharif had then jumped on to the bandwagon of a lawyers’ long march to demand the reinstatement of the Supreme Court and high court judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency in November 2007.

After initially talking tough, the government relented March 16 when the protesters reached Islamabad. The judges were reinstated and the government also agreed to back the Sharif’s review petition in the Supreme Court.

The court then stayed the bar on Shahbaz Shaif, enabling him reclaim his job.

The plane hijacking case relates to Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to block an aircraft carrying Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the army chief he had sacked, from landing at Karachi in October 1999.

The army subsequently took over the airport and cleared the blockades to enable the aircraft, which was on a flight from Colombo to land with barely a few minutes of fuel left.

Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif and, a year later, sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz Sharif return home in September 2007.

Asked at his press conference whether the PML-N would rejoin the government, he said: A separate decision will be taken on whether to join the government.

The PML-N had finished behind the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the February 2008 general elections and had joined the federal coalition.

However, largely due to the intransigence of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is the PPP co-chair, differences soon emerged on implementing the governance charter that had been chalked out before the elections and the PML-N walked out.

Most of these issues have now been sorted, paving the way for the PML-N’s return, should it want to.


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