Pakistan's top court has ruled that a person disqualified for public office cannot serve as head of a political party, paving the way for the removal of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from chairing the country's ruling party.
The Supreme Court's February 21 ruling requires that Sharif's name be removed as president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and declares that all recent decisions made by him as the head of the party are null and void.
The decision was in response to petitions from opposition parties who challenged a legislative amendment pushed through parliament by PML-N lawmakers allowing Sharif to remain at the helm of the party despite being banned from holding public office.
Sharif was dismissed from office by the Supreme Court in July 2017 for allegedly concealing assets abroad and other corruption allegations. He denies any wrongdoing.
Allies of the three-time prime minister, who was toppled in a military coup in 1999, have called the proceedings a political vendetta and suggested the powerful Pakistani Army might be behind it.
Reacting to the Supreme Court's latest ruling, Talal Chaudhry, a PML-N lawmaker and deputy interior minister, said that the decision will "bring no change."
"Sharif cannot be pulled out of the people's heart through court decisions," he also said.
Fawad Chaudhry, spokesman for the Tehrik-e Insaf opposition party, called the ruling "historic," saying it will strengthen democracy in the country.
The PML-N holds a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, and has hopes of winning control of the Senate in elections due on March 3.
However, the court's decision could throw the vote into disarray, with opposition figures and constitutional experts saying the ruling invalidates candidates who were nominated by Sharif.