Pakistan has waited to see whether former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 8th. As it turns out, the Election Commission has insisted that Sharif do so, ruling him ineligible to run for office, thanks to his convictions for corruption that followed the coup d’etat of Pervez Musharraf:
Pakistan’s Election Commission on Monday barred former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from a January 8 general election because of his criminal record.
“His nomination papers are rejected because of his convictions,” presiding election official Raja Qamaruzaman told Reuters in the eastern city of Lahore, Sharif’s power base where last week he registered to run in the election.
The two-time prime minister says the convictions secured against him in the wake of his 1999 ouster by the then army chief, Pervez Musharraf, were politically motivated.
Sharif, who returned from seven years of exile on November 25, has been threatening to boycott the election but he had lodged nomination papers.
His exclusion from the vote will be seen by the opposition as the result of pressure on election officials by President Musharraf to block the old rival he ousted. Critics say Musharraf has sway over voting officials.
A similar situation presented itself with Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. However, she negotiated an amnesty deal for her return, with Musharraf and the US hoping she would form an alliance with the now-civilian president. The alliance would have united the military and the middle class against the Islamist extremists, but it fell apart when Musharraf imposed emergency rule on Pakistan last month. Nevertheless, her amnesty remains in effect, and the Elections Commission will not rule her ineligible for office.
Sharif’s party, meanwhile, issued a strange retort to Musharraf. Even while they continued talking up a boycott, they insisted that Musharraf had engineered the disqualification because he fears Sharif’s popularity. If that were true, why would Sharif need to boycott the elections? Even if that were true, Sharif’s disqualification doesn’t stop him from publicly leading his party in the elections — and it might even enhance their chances. Why not take part in the election?
Still, this shows the fundamental problem of Musharraf’s judiciary. This kind of question should find a resolution with an independent judiciary — but that no longer exists, whether for ill or good. Even if the old judiciary was corrupt and too friendly towards the Islamists, the new judiciary certainly knows better than to rule against Musharraf, at least for now. Sharif cannot possibly get a fair hearing now to question his convictions, obviously politically tainted in the 1999 coup that put Musharraf in power.
It provides a good reason to boycott the elections until Musharraf restores independence to the judiciary. Until that happens, Pakistani dissidents cannot have confidence in their ability to remain free from trumped-up criminal charges for political purposes. With the judges in his pocket, Musharraf can keep the opposition out of effective power indefinitely.