Pakistan’s prime minister has been ‘disqualified’ but country may yet avoid dangerous instability
The 2013 election that brought Sharif to power for a third time was also a powerful symbol of stability, representing Pakistan’s first democratic transition from one elected government to another
The ousting of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left a power vacuum at the top of the nuclear-armed country, yet experts say that in the long run it is unlikely to be destabilising.
Sharif’s disqualification Friday by the Supreme Court over corruption allegations denies him the chance of becoming the country’s first prime minister to complete a full five-year term.
Yet despite the country’s history of military rule, power will likely remain within the hands of a civilian government – and probably that of Sharif’s eponymous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party, analysts say.
“In a country as volatile as Pakistan, there’s good reason to be concerned whenever a prime minister is dismissed,” said Michael Kugelman of the DC-based Wilson Centre. “But my sense is that everything will eventually fall into place – a successor will be chosen and the current government will serve out its term.”
Pakistan has been roiled by military coups and instability for much of its 70-year history. But recently there has been a surge of optimism in the militancy-plagued developing country, which has seen a dramatic improvement in security and positive economic growth in recent years.
The 2013 election that brought Sharif to power for a third time was also a powerful symbol of stability, representing Pakistan’s first democratic transition from one elected government to another.
Sharif was disqualified from the prime minister’s office but remains the head of the PML-N party which holds a majority in parliament, meaning the next prime minister will likely emerge from its ranks.
Political analyst Hasan Askari said that Pakistan’s parliamentary system of government remains unshaken despite the Supreme Court’s ousting of a democratically-elected premier.
“Sharif will bring forward some person from the party. Obviously his personality will not carry as much weight [as Sharif] ... But at the moment we can say, the first impact of the judgement has not proved to be destabilising,” he said.
With Pakistan just a year away from general elections, the question is whether the country’s opposition parties can capitalise on Sharif’s removal.
Opposition leader Imran Khan has breathlessly pounded his party’s anti-graft slogans and called for Sharif’s removal as his slow downfall has played out on Pakistan’s TV news channels over the last year.
But his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which governs one of Pakistan’s four provinces, has so far failed to turn itself into a national party.
“[It is PTI] that initiated the case against the prime minister [Sharif], therefore they are going to be the major beneficiary in terms of reputation and credibility,” Askari said.
But, he cautioned, the party would benefit most from early elections, while popular opinion is still on its side – a remote prospect, with the PML-N-dominated National Assembly more likely push for elections to be held as scheduled in June 2018.
“This is a party [PML-N] that has the luxury of not facing a formidable opponent with national clout,” Kugelman said.
“This decision is not a game-changer for PTI,” agreed senior political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais. “The only change is that Mr Nawaz Sharif is no longer a prime minister.”
The immediate reaction to Sharif’s ouster from Pakistanis was muted, analysts agreed, with passionate statements made on both sides but only sporadic demonstrations in the streets, suggesting citizens believe the PML-N is still in control.
While Sharif now has to face down allegations that his family has illegally amassed huge wealth, some observers say that it is the Supreme Court who will ultimately be judged the most harshly.
“When history is written this is going to go down as one of a series of decisions that the Pakistani judiciary has given against popularly elected governments,” said constitutional lawyer Yasser Hamdani.