Panama papers verdict: Nawaz Sharif's fate in balance; ruling PML-N moots PM replacement or snap polls

Pakistan's Supreme Court is all set to determine Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's fate on Thursday, with a ruling on corruption allegations that could see him ousted from power after the Panama Papers linked his family to offshore businesses.

The decision, which is expected to be announced at 2 pm (local time), is highly anticipated by Pakistanis, and threatens to plunge Sharif's governing party into turmoil ahead of general elections which must be held by next year, even as security and the economy improve in the militancy-plagued country.

The controversy erupted with the publication of the so-called Panama Papers last year, wherein 11.5 million secret documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful. Among the global elite implicated were three of Sharif's four children — his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein.

At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies. The government insists the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.

Reacting to the constant questions of his future after the Panamagate verdict, Sharif was quoted by Pakistani media as saying, “Whatever decision is taken by the court, Insha Allah would be better.”

While judiciary takes its own course in determining the verdict of the case, there are ramifications on the politics of Pakistan.

Pakistan Prime Minsiter Nawaz Sharif. AFP

Pakistan Prime Minsiter Nawaz Sharif. AFP

There are two major scenarios post the verdict: A verdict in favour of Sharif or one which threatens to jeopardise his political career.

New prime minister or snap polls

According to Pakistani media, the verdict is expected to impact Sharif's position as prime minister. Just as former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was ousted by the Pakistan Supreme Court in April 2012, the verdict may force the PML-N leader to step down. In such a scenario, a Hindustan Times report said that Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif may take over as the interim prime minister. The other name in the race is Ishaq Dar, the finance minister.

According to Dawn, the ruling party is also looking at the prospect of a early elections, if there is an adverse verdict.

The reasoning behind such a move, according to the report, would be to stop the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) from exploiting the post-verdict situation.

Experts call on the post-verdict scenario 

Most experts believe that Sharif 's ouster is unlikely and that the Supreme Court will most likely ask the federal authorities to form a committee to investigate the charges of corruption. The judgement is also expected to be a tricky one for the judges, as they might even invoke the "law of necessity", which Zahid Hussain, a senior commentator, felt may help Sharif survive as the prime minister. However, he believed that Sharif may not go completely unscathed from the case.

Law of Necessity is an idea unique to Pakistan, which has justified the take over of "extra-constitutional powers" to stabilise the country. Often, the military has used this idea to justify its takeover of the country.

According to journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi, Panamagate will throw up a situation in which the likely victim may be Maryam Sharif, while the prime minister may emerge as someone who stood for accountability and transparency. This, she believes will boost his chances of being re-elected. However, the PTI will continue to charge Sharif with corruption. she also ruled out any chance of snap polls.

Maryam Sharif slams Opposition

Maryam Sharif, the prime minister's daughter, who is seen as his political heir, tweeted on Wednesday saying that she or her family is not concerned about the verdict. Maryam is also expected to be in legal trouble if the apex court calls for further investigation into the case.

She also tweeted that she is humbled by the "overwhelming support" to her father before the Panamagate verdict.

Opposition buoyant about positive change

The Opposition which expects a verdict indicting Sharif has remained positive.

Forecasting a dramatic change post the verdict, Syed Khursheed Shah, Pakistan Peoples Party leader was quoted by Geo TV as saying, "The world appears to be a global village now. It has shrunk, and nothing can be hidden anymore. The situation today is very different. This decision can either strengthen the State or weaken it as well."

The PTI, the Imran Khan-led party too is confident of the verdict being based on "truth and not lies, and facts not assumptions."

However, striking a conciliatory tone, the party also added that it's ready to accept any decision of the apex court.

The PPP has said that it will form a grand Opposition to take on the ruling PML-N in the upcoming 2018 General Election.

With inputs from AFP

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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 13:26:34 IST

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