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Pakistan's Sharif Resigns After Supreme Court Orders His Removal; Opposition Celebrates

  • RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigned on July 28 shortly after the country's Supreme Court ordered his removal from office in connection with corruption charges stemming from the Panama Papers leak in 2016.

The five-judge panel's unanimous decision, issued amid tight security in the capital, Islamabad, and Sharif's immediate resignation plunged the nuclear-armed nation into a political crisis.

Crowds poured into the streets of Islamabad to celebrate the court decision, while opposition leader Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician who led the campaign against Sharif, declared a "huge victory" and "good omen" for Pakistan.

But in Sharif's power base of Lahore in Punjab Province, sporadic protests broke out, with supporters of the prime minister burning tires, blocking streets, and chanting, "We won't accept this decision."

The court ruling came immediately after an investigative panel alleged that Sharif's family could not account for what it said was vast wealth in offshore companies.

"He is no longer eligible to be an honest member of the parliament, and he ceases to be holding the office of prime minister," Ejaz Afzal Khan, one of the judges, said in court.

In a brief statement, Sharif's office said Sharif "relinquished his charge" as prime minister after learning of the Supreme Court's decision.

The statement suggested that the decision was unjust and said Sharif had "serious reservations about the judicial process," but that he stepped down to show his respect for the judiciary and rule of law.

Crowds assembled outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, where more than 3,000 security personnel were deployed ahead of the ruling.

Opponents of Sharif celebrated the decision.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (file photo)
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (file photo)

"I want to tell the nation that it is a huge victory of yours," opposition leader Imran Khan told supporters in Islamabad. Khan last year had threatened mass street protests unless Sharif's wealth was investigated.

"I am seeing the destination of a new Pakistan in front of me," he said.

Khan asked supporters of his Tehrik-e Insaf party to make their way to Islamabad on July 30 to celebrate the opposition's victory in a "battle against corrupt elements."

He said he would announce his future course of action at the rally.

"Pakistan's courts have made a prime minister accountable," Tehrik-e Insaf party member Fawad Chaudhry said, adding: "Today is a day of victory for Pakistan."

Pakistani media reported that a criminal investigation would also be launched against Sharif, who was serving as prime minister for the third time, and his family.

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case while calling the inquiry into his family’s finances a conspiracy.

"This is not accountability, it is revenge," Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq tweeted before the verdict. "In an effort dislodge us, the democratic system has been made a target."

The Supreme Court also ordered a criminal investigation into the assets of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, an ally of Sharif who has been credited with helping Pakistan's economy reach its fastest pace of growth in a decade.

Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which has a majority in parliament, is expected to name a new prime minister to hold office until elections due next year.

Pakistan's figurehead president, Mamnoon Hussain, is expected to convene the National Assembly once Sharif's party nominates a successor.

Sharif, 67, is among the major political casualties of the Panama Papers leaks that brought offshore finance under the spotlight.

Documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm that were made public in April 2016 revealed that three of Sharif’s four children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family's wealth statement.

Sharif's son Hussain Nawaz at the time acknowledged owning offshore companies but insisted they used legal money to set up businesses abroad.

In 2016, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson stepped down amid public outrage that his family had sheltered money offshore.

One of Sharif's two previous stints as prime minister was cut short by a military coup in 1999.

He returned from exile to win a convincing victory in parliamentary elections in 2013.

No prime minister has completed a full term in power in Pakistan since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Sharif's brother, Shehbaz, who is chief minister of Punjab Province, is a possible contender for the prime minister's job.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the national assembly; Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the minister of petroleum; Khurram Dastgir Khan, the commerce minister; and Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif have also been named as possible contenders.

Pakistan's Supreme Court had once previously disqualified a prime minister. In 2012, it ruled that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was guilty of contempt and ordered him removed from office.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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