Pakistan: Will it ever have a stable government?
“Another major convulsion has ripped through the political landscape,” said Dawn in an editorial. In a unanimous verdict last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court “struck a blow for accountability” by ruling that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif be removed from office. The case came up because of revelations in the Panama Papers—documents leaked last year from a Panamanian law firm specializing in offshore assets—which appeared to show that several of Sharif’s children had hidden vast amounts of ill-gotten wealth abroad. The court hasn’t yet ruled on the corruption allegations stemming from the papers, but it did find that Sharif had failed to disclose all of his family assets when he filed to run in the 2013 parliamentary elections. The message should now be clear to all politicians: “Declare everything fully and transparently or risk the ultimate sanction.”
Don’t celebrate this overreach by the court, said Hassan Javid in The Nation. Sharif was not removed because of the allegations of money laundering and misappropriation of public funds; he was “disqualified on a technicality.” The so-called asset Sharif failed to disclose was a small salary he was entitled to receive, but says he did not collect, from a Dubai-based company owned by his son, Hassan. The court used that oversight to find him in violation of the constitution’s requirements that a prime minister be “truthful” and “trustworthy”—vague articles introduced in 1985 by then-dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq “as a measure through which to exercise control over Pakistan’s elected representatives.” Sure, Sharif should have been ousted if proved corrupt—but that hadn’t yet been proved.
This is typical Pakistan, said The News International. Since the country gained independence 70 years ago, not a single prime minister has completed a full five-year term in office. Three times democratic governments were overthrown by military coups. One prime minister was murdered in office, several were dismissed by presidents, and two have now been removed by the Supreme Court. Sharif himself had been kicked out of the prime minister’s office twice before. Pakistan desperately needs “institutionalized efforts and mechanisms to check corruption in all our institutions,” or we’ll never have a stable government. Also typical, said Zahid Hussain in Dawn, is the dynastic tendency in our politics. Sharif had been grooming his daughter Maryam as successor, but she has been implicated in the Panama Papers corruption and is now ineligible. So his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province, will eventually take over as prime minister. “One is not sure if the family rule is over.”
Meanwhile, power shifts back to the military, said Raza Rumi in the Daily Times. Sharif’s ouster came partly because his rival, opposition leader Imran Khan, worked to keep the scandal in the spotlight. But the other part was that the unelected institutions—the judiciary, the military, the media—“displayed and asserted their powers without hesitation.” The unelected have thrown out the elected, and Pakistan’s democracy is as weak as ever. ■