Does Sharif’s ouster mean chaos for Pak?

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The oust­ing of Pak­istan’s Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has left a power vac­uum at the top of the nu­clear-armed coun­try, yet ex­perts say that in the long run it is un­likely to be desta­bi­liz­ing. Sharif’s dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion Fri­day by the Supreme Court over cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions de­nies him the chance of be­com­ing the coun­try’s first prime min­is­ter to com­plete a full five-year term. Yet de­spite the coun­try’s his­tory of mil­i­tary rule, power will likely re­main within the hands of a civil­ian govern­ment - and prob­a­bly that of Sharif’s epony­mous Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz Party, an­a­lysts say.

“In a coun­try as volatile as Pak­istan, there’s good rea­son to be con­cerned when­ever a prime min­is­ter is dis­missed,” said Michael Kugel­man of the DC-based Wil­son Cen­tre. “But my sense is that every­thing will even­tu­ally fall into place - a suc­ces­sor will be cho­sen and the cur­rent govern­ment will serve out its term.” Sharif named his brother Shah­baz, the chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab prov­ince, as his suc­ces­sor and nom­i­nated ex-oil min­is­ter Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi as an in­terim pre­mier in a de­fi­ant speech yes­ter­day.

Pak­istan has been roiled by mil­i­tary coups and in­sta­bil­ity for much of its 70-year his­tory. But re­cently there has been a surge of op­ti­mism in the mil­i­tancy-plagued de­vel­op­ing coun­try, which has seen a dra­matic im­prove­ment in se­cu­rity and pos­i­tive eco­nomic growth in re­cent years. While the 2013 elec­tion that brought Sharif to power for a third time was also a pow­er­ful sym­bol of sta­bil­ity, rep­re­sent­ing Pak­istan’s first demo­cratic tran­si­tion from one elected govern­ment to an­other.

Supreme Court judged most harshly

Sharif was dis­qual­i­fied from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice but re­mains the head of the PML-N party which holds a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment, mean­ing the next prime min­is­ter will likely emerge from its ranks. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Hasan Askari said that Pak­istan’s par­lia­men­tary sys­tem of govern­ment re­mains un­shaken de­spite the Supreme Court’s oust­ing of a demo­crat­i­cally-elected pre­mier. “Sharif will bring for­ward some per­son from the party. Ob­vi­ously his per­son­al­ity will not carry as much weight (as Sharif)... But at the mo­ment we can say, the first im­pact of the judge­ment has not proved to be desta­bi­liz­ing,” he said. With Pak­istan just a year away from gen­eral elec­tions, the ques­tion is whether the coun­try’s op­po­si­tion par­ties can cap­i­tal­ize on Sharif’s re­moval. Op­po­si­tion leader Im­ran Khan has breath­lessly pounded his party’s anti-graft slo­gans and called for Sharif’s re­moval as his slow down­fall has played out on Pak­istan’s TV news chan­nels over the last year. But his Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf, which gov­erns one of Pak­istan’s four prov­inces, has so far failed to turn it­self into a na­tional party. ”(It is PTI) that ini­ti­ated the case against the prime min­is­ter (Sharif), there­fore they are go­ing to be the ma­jor ben­e­fi­ciary in terms of rep­u­ta­tion and cred­i­bil­ity,” said Askari.

But, he cau­tioned, the party would ben­e­fit most from early elec­tions, while pop­u­lar opin­ion is still on its side - a re­mote prospect, with the PML-N-dom­i­nated Na­tional As­sem­bly more likely push for elec­tions to be held as sched­uled in June 2018. “This is a party (PML-N) that has the lux­ury of not fac­ing a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent with na­tional clout,” said Kugel­man. “This de­ci­sion is not a game-changer for PTI,” agreed se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ra­sul Bakhsh Rais. “The only change is that Mr Nawaz Sharif is no longer a prime min­is­ter.” The im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion to Sharif’s ouster from Pak­ista­nis was muted, an­a­lysts agreed, with pas­sion­ate state­ments made on both sides but only spo­radic demon­stra­tions in the streets, sug­gest­ing cit­i­zens be­lieve the PML-N is still in con­trol. While Sharif now has to face down al­le­ga­tions that his fam­ily has il­le­gally amassed huge wealth, some ob­servers say that it is the Supreme Court who will ul­ti­mately be judged the most harshly. “When his­tory is writ­ten this is go­ing to go down as one of a se­ries of de­ci­sions that the Pak­istani ju­di­ciary has given against pop­u­larly elected gov­ern­ments,” said con­sti­tu­tional lawyer Yasser Ham­dani. —AFP

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