Last month, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. He was found guilty of hiding offshore assets while in office.
The ruling from the country’s top court followed months of investigations into allegations of corruption.
This is the third time Prime Minister has been ousted from office. And Pakistan hasn’t had a single civilian Prime Minister that has completed their full term in office.
From Karachi, Naeem Sahoutara explores the implications for democracy in Pakistan.
All of Pakistan held its breath. Glued to television screens across the country, last month they waited for the Supreme Court to announce a historic verdict.
By afternoon, five judges unanimously declared that Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from the office of Prime Minister.
The court had thoroughly investigated allegations of corruption, first raised in the Panama Papers last year, and found that the Prime Minister failed to declare offshore assets, and a monthly salary he received as Chairman of a company owned by his son, and based in the United Arab Emirates.
The Prime Minister and the nation were shocked by the court ruling.
In the seven decades since Pakistan won independence, this is the first time that a sitting Prime Minister has been held accountable for corruption.
Despite compelling evidence that the Prime Minister was seriously corrupt, many are now criticizing the court’s decision.
“This is a defective judgment, which is harming democracy in Pakistan, and the space for civilian politicians,” stated Dr Tauseef Ahmed, Professor in Mass Communications at the University of Karachi.
Pakistan has a long history of dictatorship and weak democracy.
Military dictators have ruled the country, either directly, or indirectly, for 36 years out of the 70 years since independence.
Dr Ahmed says the court ruling has furthered decayed democracy in Pakistan.
“Questions are being raised about the survival of the democratic system, because the ousting of our 27th Prime Minister is having a direct impact on democracy,” Ahmed commented.
“It is the country’s irony that 27 Prime Ministers have not completed their tenure because of the establishment. The establishment means the army and the bureaucracy.”
Sharif is a civilian leader.This is the third time he has been elected as Prime Minister, and the third time he has been ousted from office before completing his term.
In 1993 Sharif resigned from office under pressure from the Pakistan Armed Forces. Allegations of corruption surrounded him then, too.
He was re-elected for a second time in 1997, but within 3 years, he was deposed by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who went on to install martial law.
Sharif isn’t the only civilian leader to be toppled by the military. Previous Prime Ministers suffered the same fate.
“This problem of the civilian Prime Ministers being sent packing exists in the country since its beginning,” stated researcher and journalist, Akhtar Balouch.
He says political parties are made vulnerable by the constant threat of being overthrown.
“The reason is that when the politicians parties come into power, they get weaker because instead of strengthening the political group, because they entirely focus on saving their governments due to fears of being toppled,” Balouch said.
“That’s the reason, in the event of a military coup, the same political groups are unable to resist as strong political groups.”
Observers say that the army repeatedly accuses civilian governments of corruption and bad governance, using it as an excuse to take power.
But at the same time, corruption is rampant in Pakistan.
According to the government’s own estimates, around USD $12 billion is sent out of the country and stashed in foreign banks each year.
Many politicians and bureaucrats face serious corruption allegations, but it’s extremely rare for them to be held accountable.
Meanwhile, journalist Akhtar Balouch says power is concentrated in the hands of the elite.
“The political parties themselves do not believe in local governments’ system, which is the nursery of producing political leadership and also resolving the public issues at their doorsteps,” he explained.
“This is why the existing political system in Pakistan has never been a participatory democracy.”
Political parties fear losing power at the grassroots level, and do their best to avoid local government. This year, local government elections took place for the first time in 10 years, and only after the intervention of the Supreme Court.
Weak democratic governance leaves the country vulnerable to dictators taking control.
Meanwhile, even after being found guilty of corruption, former Prime Minister Sharif says he will challenge his disqualification in the Supreme Court. And he plans to run in elections next year.
“An elected representative of 200 million people should not be treated like this. Such insulting treatment is not tolerable,” Sharif told media.
“And history will find whether or not this court verdict was good for Pakistan.”