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Nawaz Sharif’s Anti-Judiciary campaign: Will it ensure his relevance for PML-N?

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A three-judge full bench has been constituted by the chief justice of Lahore High Court (LHC) Muhammad Yawar Ali on March 20th  to hear petitions filed against Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Safdar and other senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). 

The bench is headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi includes Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan; the proceeding will start on April 2.

Justice Naqvi was hearing the case and he had summoned the Pakistan Electronic Media Regula­tory Authority (PEMRA) secretary as well to explain the matter. The judge late on, requested to the Chief Justice LHC to constitute when he came to know that there were several identical petitions pending for adjudication before other benches.

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The petitioners have chiefly pointed out that Nawaz Sharif and other PML-N leaders have made several anti-judiciary speeches. Derogatory remarks have been passed against the apex court and honorable judges after Panamagate judgment, the petitioners contended.

Moreover, the petitioners also contended that the PEMRA was ‘willfully’ allowing TV channels to broadcast anti-judiciary speeches which is against the law. The petitioners also made a point the PEMRA has become a subordinate body of the government, and it is no longer an independent body.

The court has been asked by the petitioners to pass necessary institutions not to allow TV channels to broadcast anti-judiciary or hate speeches by the PML-N leaders.

“PML-N’s anti-Judiciary campaign”

PML-N decided to verbally attack the top court of the country after Nawaz Sharif was declared  ‘dishonest’ and ‘untruthful’, seemed as ineligible to hold the highest executive office in the country.  The Panamagate judgment not only disqualified Nawaz Sharif also directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to initiate a corruption case against Sharifs in a trial court. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the Supreme Court also found discrepancies between the means of earning and what was in the possession of Sharif family.

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Observations and comments of the honorable judges made it hard for Nawaz Sharif to face the public in Pakistan. His personal character and political career were greatly compromised as he was unable to prove his ‘innocence’ before the court despite having sufficient amount of time given to him by the court. He then came up with an anti-judiciary narrative. He not only accused judges of being biased against him but also pronounced repeatedly that the decisions against him were being written somewhere else. Nawaz Sharif presented himself before the public as a political victim of the Judiciary and (without explicitly mentioning) the military establishment.

Along with Nawaz, there were senior PML-N leaders who not only made anti-judiciary speeches but also threatened the honorable judges of dire consequences if they (judges) don’t stop giving decisions against Sharifs. 

Contempt of Court proceedings against PML-N leaders

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently issued contempt of court notices to three senior leaders of the party; former senator Nihal Hashmi, Federal Minister for Privatization Daniyal Aziz and State Minister for Interior Talal Chaudhry.

Nehal Hashmi who threatened the judges of the apex court was sentenced to one month jail time and Rs50, 000 fine in contempt of court case. A bench headed by the justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed that “[Hashmi] is a firebrand speaker and the tone, the pitch and the delivery of the offending words bear an ample testimony to that; but, unfortunately, on that day he had spewed fire towards a wrong direction”.

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But the PML-N leader made yet again anti-judiciary remarks the day he was released.  The court again issued him a contempt of court notice.

The court has also indicted the Federal Minister for Privatization Daniyal Aziz. The court is yet to determine the fate of PML-N leaders.

Nawaz’s political future; will anti-judiciary war ensure his political relevance?

Nawaz Sharif and his daughter have nothing to lose personally even if they don’t stop attacking the judiciary. But as far as the party is concerned, there is much at stake. Anti-judiciary stance is not something politically desirable and democratically justifiable. PML-N under Shahbaz Sharif is set to ensure political process and the growth of democratic ideals in Pakistan but if Nawaz Sharif uses the party platform against the highest court of the country it will, then, be counterproductive.

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Moreover, people in Pakistan have a deep sense of respect for the state institutions e.g. army and judiciary; so any attack by a disqualified person on the institutions’ integrity or independence will lead to political polarization in Pakistan. This is somewhat self-destructive for the PML-N.

Nawaz Sharif who has almost lost the legal battle in the court is not trying to generate a debate at different levels in order to establish an anti-judiciary narrative for his personal political survival. But here his interests are not matching with what the PML-N is designed to achieve under Shahbaz’s command. Shahbaz Sharif is not interested to confront the institutions rather he intends to solely focus on the re-organization of his party in order to seek maximum political support in the coming general elections. Politics of confrontation is, suggest analyst, not Shahbaz’s political agenda. Therefore, the father-daughter duo is increasingly becoming politically isolated and largely irrelevant for the party.