ISLAMABAD: The government of Pakistan petitioned the Supreme Court yesterday asking it to review a ruling last month that banned opposition leaders — Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif — from elected office and sparked a political crisis.
The government, faced with huge protests, had last week offered to appeal against the court ruling, which barred former prime minister and his politician brother, Shahbaz, from elected office. It also agreed to reinstate a Supreme Court chief dismissed in 2007 to stop a “long march” by lawyers.
“We have requested the court to review the order in the interest of constitutionalism and the rule of law,” Attorney General Latif Khosa said, adding the government hoped the court would begin its review today. The request was a big step toward dispelling mistrust between the countries’ two biggest parties. The Sharifs said President Asif Ali Zardari was behind the Feb. 25 ruling, that was based on old convictions they say were politically motivated, and joined in the anti-government protest campaign in open confrontation. Zardari’s spokesman denied that he had anything to do with the Supreme Court’s decision.
The lawyers’ long march protest threatened to plunge the country into violent turmoil and distract the government from fighting militancy and reviving an economy propped up by the International Monetary Fund.
The Supreme Court ruling nullified a by-election victory by Shahbaz Sharif and disqualified him from holding the office of chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and politically influential province.
The Sharif party’s government was thrown out of power in the province and Zardari imposed central rule there for two months. Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous and richest province, and whoever controls it has tremendous national influence.
Political parties led by Sharif and Zardari have been jockeying for position and alliances in case there is a new election for chief minister. Leaders of a party long linked to Musharraf have suggested the two main parties — Zardari’s and Sharif’s — form a coalition, but the Sharifs are unlikely to want to share power with Zardari’s supporters.
Several lawmakers from the Musharraf-linked party say they’ll support the Sharifs, but under election rules their votes could be tossed out if their party leaders decide to challenge them.
Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, meanwhile, has said his rule could end once two political parties can prove an alliance that controls a majority of seats in the assembly.
Whether there actually will be an election or whether Shahbaz Sharif can simply reclaim his position could depend on the courts.
Fauzia Wahab, spokeswoman for the Pakistan People’s Party, said yesterday that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was expecting to meet with Shahbaz Sharif. She predicted that the “governor’s rule will end soon” in Punjab, but gave no dates.