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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 616, 29 June 2023

The New Elections Legislation: What it Says and What it Means



Shehbaz Sharif: “You will see that the map of politics will change when Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan”

Sneha Surendran

On 25 June, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed the Elections (Amendment) Act 2023. The amendment limits the disqualification period for parliamentarians to five years. It also gives the Election Commission of Pakistan the right to set election dates without consulting the President. On 26 June, with acting President Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani signing the bill, the Elections (Amendment) Act became law. The entire procedure set off a political discourse in Pakistan, with many weighing in on what the new law means for exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
 
On 25 June, following the passing of the amendment, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif created a legal team. The committee which includes Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Interior and Legal Affairs Attaullah Tarar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Irfaq Qadir, and lawyers associated with Nawaz Sharif’s cases will be headed by Federal Law Minister Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar. The team has been assigned with handling Nawaz Sharif’s legal woes to facilitate his smooth return.
 
In 2017, PML-N head Nawaz Sharif had been disqualified as Prime Minister by a Supreme Court judgment under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution for corruption charges. In 2018, he had been slapped with a life ban on holding public office after being found guilty in the Panama Papers case. However, under the amended law, Sharif, who currently resides in London, will once again become eligible for standing for elections.
 
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif refuted allegations that the bill was tailored for Nawaz Sharif after the opposition termed it “person-specific legislation.” He opined that: “It is a separate matter that [the amendment] is applicable to him in the current circumstances.” He also added that lifetime disqualifications were against fundamental constitutional rights.
 
A government that is pulling out all stops
The amended act was signed into law by acting President Sadiq Sanjrani in the absence of President Arif Alvi who is on the Hajj pilgrimage. President Alvi, who is a PTI affiliate, has in the past refused to sign bills proposed by the current coalition government, especially ones that would be a drawback for the PT. Therefore, although the decision of President Alvi to the bill cannot be foretold, it's passing in his absence worked conveniently for the government.
 
Facing Imran Khan and a weakening PTI in elections
The PTI leadership is in chaos as prominent members flee from the party. Many ex-PTI members have joined the newly formed IPP, whose patron Jahangir Khan Tareen will also benefit from the amended election law. However, despite the troubles ailing the PTI, its leader Imran Khan continues to be a strong contender in the political arena. This is a point that Nawaz Sharif and his allies will consider in the upcoming elections. Imran Khan is widely considered a popular leader, especially among the youth. His popularity was validated by a survey by Gallup Pakistan. A group affiliated with Gallup International Association, they had released the Public Pulse Report in early 2023, covering around 2000 respondents in all four provinces. In terms of public perception, Imran Khan had been rated the highest with 61 percent of the respondents giving a positive review. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif received a positive rating of 36 and 32 percent respectively, with the majority of respondents giving a negative review.
 
The legal challenge that awaits
The new law will give the former prime minister the chance to run for office again. However, the corruption charges against him will be an obstacle that can also be leveraged by the opposition. This was echoed by lawyer Salahuddin Ahmed who said: “I believe someone or the other will challenge the bill or candidacy when they [Sharif and Tareen] file nominations.” Nawaz Sharif remains convicted for the Avenfield and Al Aziza corruption cases. He left the country on medical bail in November 2019, which means he still faces the possibility of being charged upon his return. While the legal team gathered by Shehbaz Sharif will look to sort out these issues.
 
On 24 June, the PML-N supremo was acquitted by an accountability court in Lahore in a 37-year-old plot allotment case. In a ruling that came days after the amendment was proposed, whether this is a foreshadowing of what will happen to the cases against Nawaz Sharif is something time will reveal. Furthermore, the courts will play a key role in determining the future of Sharif’s candidature in case he decides to resume his political career within the country.
 
The latest huddle in Dubai and an October to watch out for
On 26 June, Nawaz Sharif and Senior Vice President of PML-N Maryam Nawaz met with their coalition partner PPP’s leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto in Dubai. According to reports, two meetings have transpired, and the leaders reportedly held discussions about the scheduling of the next general elections, the caretaker arrangement, and other political issues. On 28 June, PPP’s Faisal Karim Kundi said that while the possibility of an alliance between the two partners cannot be confirmed now, seat adjustments between the two parties are a possibility. With the National Assembly set to be dissolved in August, general elections are expected to be held in October. However, reports suggest that the coalition partners have not arrived at a consensus on the dates for the elections. For now, a state of uncertainty clouds the plans around Nawaz Sharif, his arrival in the country, and his plans regarding the upcoming elections. In any case, Shehbaz Sharif’s recent statement: “You will see that the map of politics will change when Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan” points to choppy times in Pakistan's political atmosphere.
 
References
 “Govt Forms Legal Team For Nawaz Sharif’s Return,” The Friday Times, 25 June 2023
Tahir Naseer, “IHC dismisses Nawaz's appeals against convictions in Avenfield, Al-Azizia references,” Dawn, 24 June 2021
Imran Khan is most popular leader in Pakistan, survey shows,” The Financial Times, 10 March 2023
Rameez Khan, “Seat adjustment between PPP, PML-N ‘a likely possibility’,” The Express Tribune, 29 June 2023
Syed Irfan Raza, “Sanjrani signs amended Elections Act into law,” Dawn, 27 June 2023
Syed Irfan Raza, “NA passes bill to pave way for Nawaz return,” Dawn, 26 June 2023
From London To The Prime Minister’s Office: Journey To Power Still Very Bumpy For Nawaz Sharif,” The Friday Times, 26 June 2023
Is ex-PM Nawaz Sharif returning to Pakistan? What will it mean for the country?,” Firstpost, 28 June 2023
 

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