On April 4, 2016, International Consortium of Investigative Journalism published a list of some of the world most powerful people who have offshore companies and properties. This list contained the names of some of the political leaders who have not listed those properties in their exposed assets list. The leak shook the world’s political system including Pakistan’s, as the then sitting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s name along with his family members was in the list. Albeit Nawaz Sharif denied the allegation but the opposition parties, particularly Pakistan Tehrek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan demanded judicial investigation of the allegation. A short summary of the efforts of the opposition in this regard has been given below.
On June 24, 2016, PTI filed a petition in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against Nawaz Sharif and demanded his disqualification for concealing his assets. Similarly on August 29, 2016, PTI filed a petition in the Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif on the basis of Articles 62, 63 and again demanded his disqualification. Five days earlier, on August 24, 2016, Jamat-i-Islami had also filed a petition in Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif.
On 20th October 2016, Supreme Court accepted all petitions and formed a large bench of five judges of the Supreme Court to hear the petition. On April 20, 2017, Supreme Court gave its verdict in which two judges disqualify the Prime Minister while the three judges ordered the formation of a JIT (Joint Investigation Team) to do a thorough investigation of the allegations. The JIT submitted its final report to Supreme Court on 10 July 2017. The three Judges bench reserve its decision on the basis of hearing after JIT report on July 21, 2017. On July 28, 2017, the five judges’ bench of Supreme Court unanimously disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
As far as the effects of Panama verdict on political system of Pakistan is considered, there are mixed views in this regard. Some considered the judgement as biased and it will distort the political culture in the country while others welcomed it and called it a new beginning. These views have been discussed in detail below.
(A) Negative Effects
Those who criticise this whole process of filing petition and Supreme Court rulings and verdict presents the following negative effects of it on the political culture of the country.
(1) Allegations Culture
Since the Panama trial was initiated on the basis of mere allegations so this decision will only promote the practice of allegations in the political culture of the state. For tomorrow, anybody can blame any other politician for any reason and can file petition. This in short will destroy the political system of the country.
(2) Power Of Qualification And Disqualification Lies With Public
The disqualification of a sitting Prime Minister means the nullification of right of election of millions of people. The former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has acquired the office after getting millions of votes in the general elections of 2013. Only public possesses the right to disqualify a politician if they want to and not any institution.
(3) Daharna/Sit-in Culture In Politics
Since the trial was started due to the fear of an expected sit-in, called by PTI chairman Imran Khan, it is believed that this judgment may promote the practice of demonstrations in politics. According to many scholars this may prove fatal for many politicians and political governments.
(4) Supreme Court Powers
As the Supreme Court disqualified the sitting Prime Minister on the basis of a reason that was not mentioned by the petitioners, this makes the court judgment irrelevant. Also this trial unconstitutionally expanded the trial and judgement power of Supreme Court.
(5) Dictators Made Rules
Generally it is also believed that this judgement in a way has encouraged the illegal changes made in the constitution of the country by the marital law administrators. This argument is based on the reason that Articles 62, 63 were added by General Zia-ul-haq during his reign.
(B) Positive Effects
Those who called this judgement a positive step towards a better political culture based their opinion on the following reasons.
(1) Role Of Institutions
They challenged the argument of the opponent who says that the right of disqualification lies in public by arguing that Institutions’ action and decision represent public opinion. If people were let to make judgement in such cases, it will only lead to anarchy in the country.
(2) Allegation Backed By Evidence Is Good
No doubt the culture of blind allegations will destroy the political system of the country but if allegations are backed by proof then such practice will not only purify the political arena but will also strengthen the political culture of the country.
(3) If Not Supreme Court Then Who?
They also argue that if Supreme Court is not eligible to give judgement in such cases then who is? Supreme Court is the highest court of the country whose decision cannot be challenged thus makes the process of seeking justice quick and ultimate.
(4) Curbing Corruption
And last but not the least, the decision will also help in curbing the malpractice of corruption in the country. Now, when political leaders noticed that they can be asked for actions they will try their best to avoid the practice of corruption.
(5) If Not Political Leaders Then Who?
The supporters of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also blame Supreme Court and those institutions which were involved in the investigation under the JIT, of biasedness in their actions and decision. In response of this, the supporters of the Supreme Court verdict say that the institutions will have to start from somewhere and someone and if it will not be political leaders, then who else will be? Similarly the name of Nawaz Sharif was included by the Supreme Court and other institutions in the Panama Leaks Papers.
It is before time to judge the effects of the Supreme Court verdict in Panama Case on the political culture of Pakistan. Time will show whether the judgement will affect positively or negatively the political system of the country. However for now we should hope of best results out of this judgement.