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Abbasi named interim Pak PM till Sharif's brother becomes MP

By Sajjad Hussain
Last updated on: July 29, 2017 21:33 IST
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Pakistan's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party on Saturday named former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the interim prime minister until ousted premier Nawaz Sharif's younger brother Shehbaz is elected as a member of parliament to succeed him as his eventual successor.

The decision was taken inIslamabad in a meeting headed by Sharif and attended by the top party leaders who rallied behind the Sharifs, the country's most powerful political family.

The Supreme Court on Friday disqualified 67-year-old Sharif for dishonesty and ruled that corruption cases be filed against him and his children over the Panama Papers scandal, forcing the embattled leader out of office.

The court's ruling abruptly ended Sharif's third tenure as prime minister and forced the party's top leadership to find his successor.

Sharif proposed the two names for party's formal approval. "The parliamentary board approved the nomination by Sharif as mark of trust in him," a party leader said.

But Shehbaz, the 65-year-old chief minister of Punjab, cannot immediately replace his brother as he is not an MP.

Abbasi, the 58-year-old loyalist of Sharif, is expected to serve for 45 days and will resign to let Shehbaz succeed as permanent premier, party sources said.

It was decided to appoint Abbasi as interim prime minister to run the government until Shehbaz is elected as a member of parliament, they said.

Pakistan has seen such arrangements in the past too.

During former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf’s time, politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was appointed as an interim prime minister until Shaukat Aziz, who was nominated by Musharraf, got elected by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam.

Saturday's meeting also decided to challenge Sharif's disqualification through a review petition in the apex court.

Sharif was accorded a tremendous welcome when arrived to chair the meeting. The participants chanted the famous party slogan for Sharif: 'dekho dekho kaun aaya, sher aaya sher aaya.' (Look who has come, lion has come.)

Lion is the election symbol of PML-N and it is frequently used by his supporters to highlight the courage of Sharif.

The process to appoint a new PM started yesterday when Sharif chaired the PML-N meeting and proposed the name of Shehbaz and none of the participants raised any objection.

Shehbaz would contest the election from NA-120, a constituency from Lahore which has become vacant due to disqualification of Sharif.

Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which was instrumental in Sharif's disqualification, has already named Dr Yasmeen Rashid as its candidate from NA-120. She was defeated by Sharif in the 2013 general election.

According to party sources, it was a difficult decision to bring Shehbaz to Islamabad as it may create political vacuum in Punjab, which PML-N cannot afford ahead of next year elections.

Hence, it was discussed to appoint permanent prime minister from the senior party leader for the remaining tenure of the government, which would end in June, 2018.

Now when it has been decided that Shehbaz would be the premier, his son Hamza could be a choice for the post of Chief Minister of Punjab.

But the problem is that Hamza is member of National Assembly and would have to be elected as member of provincial assembly first in order to succeed his father.

For how long Sharif's been disqualified? Nobody seems to know

Is Nawaz Sharif disqualified for life, or is there a possibility of him staging a comeback?

A day after the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from holding public office, legal experts and political observers appear equally confused, as are ordinary Pakistani citizens.

When the question about the duration of the 67-year-old veteran politician's ouster from Pakistan's active politics was put to seasoned lawyers, most seemed confused.

Some said the question needed to be addressed since it has remain unanswered for far too long, Dawn reported.

A five-member bench disqualified Sharif under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which state that a member of the parliament should be "truthful" and "righteous".

Tariq Mehmood, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, told the newspaper that a larger bench of the Supreme Court was seized with a number of cases, including those of Samina Khawar Hayat and Mohammad Haneef, in which the moot point was to determine whether disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution was perpetual or not.

Former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, hearing one of such cases, had wondered how anyone could be disqualified from participating in elections forever on the basis of articles 62 and 63, saying people could reform themselves to be qualified under the provisions at some point of time.

Senior lawyer Raheel Kamran Sheikh recalled that former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified on June 19, 2012, from parliament for committing contempt of court under Article 63, which specified disqualification for five years.

Unfortunately under Article 62(1)(f) no period of disqualification has been specified, he said, but endorsed what Mehmood observed.

Sheikh said some cases were pending to determine should the application of Article 62(1)(f) be restricted to the current election or to all times to come.

He said the Supreme Court was in a "catch-22 situation", since by citing the reasons for disqualification of Sharif, it lowered the threshold for ineligibility of elected members to such an extent that too many heads might roll in future.

Through the Panama Papers judgement, he feared, the balance of power had been tilted in favour of the Supreme Court and the qualification of lawmakers had been threatened.

He said if the judgement was implemented across the board, the parliamentarians, feeling threatened, might react by getting together for a constitutional amendment aimed at curtailing or restricting the scope of powers under Article 62 of the Constitution.

One the other hand, vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council Ahsan Bhoon said the disqualification of Sharif was forever.

To support his observation, he cited the 2013 Abdul Ghafoor Lehri case in which former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had held that under Article 63, there were certain disqualifications which were of temporary nature and a person disqualified under Article 63 could become qualified after the lapse of a certain period, whereas the disqualification under Article 62 was permanent.

Thus, Article 62 did not provide any period after which a person, who had been disqualified under the provision, could be eligible to contest elections of parliament, he said.

Former additional attorney general Tariq Khokhar also said that Sharif had been disqualified for life since ineligibility for not being sadiq and ameen was forever.

But a senior lawyer, who did not want to be named, said that Article 62 was a qualifying provision and, when originally enacted in 1973, it had qualifications which were all objectively determinable.

Later Gen Zia-ul Haq brought in nebulous qualifications in Article 62, which were open-ended and highly subjective.

No one has articulated its limitations better than Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who observed in one of the cases that no one should be disqualified on that basis.

The provision was largely dormant till it was dusted and brought out by Iftikhar Chaudhry and used to knock out parliamentarians, Khokhar said, adding that even Justice Chaudhry did not disqualify anyone directly, except in the dual nationality cases and that too on the basis of admissions.

But when people were disqualified in almost every such case, it was later observed that the disqualification was for life, he said, adding that was the law for the moment. 

The lawyer also recalled that petitions were pending in the apex court to determine whether disqualification under Article 62(1) (f) was for the remaining term or perpetual.

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Sajjad Hussain
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