A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday heard a set of petitions challenging the Elections Act 2017, filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Pakistan Peoples Party and 10 others.
“A corrupt party leader corrupts the entire structure of the party,” Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan remarked during the day’s proceedings. “A disqualified individual can gather 10 people, form a party and then use them [to further his agenda],” he remarked.
Turning to Salman Akram Raja, who was in court pleading disqualified former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s case that disqualification from parliament should not deprive an individual from leading a political party, the judge said: “Qualified people are being controlled by a disqualified person.”
He was likely referencing the PML-N, which is currently being presided over by Sharif.
“How can a person who has been punished [and disqualified] lead a party?” the judge asked Raja.
However, Raja disagreed with Justice Ahsan’s assessment, arguing: “The issuance of Senate tickets by a disqualified individual does not corrupt the entire party. A disqualified person cannot come to parliament, but he can run the party.”
“[By that logic,] can a dacoit and the ringleader of a drug mafia or a person involved in serious crimes also become the leader of a political party?” the chief justice asked rhetorically.
During the hearing, the chief justice pointed out that the party ticket issued by PML-N to its new recruit, Mushahid Hussain, bore the signatures of Sharif, who was ousted from the office last year following the Panama Paper investigation.
At this, Raja said that the article 62, 63 of the Constitution pertains to disqualification and that the Election Act 2017 is not in conflict with the Constitution.
Raja told the court that anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela had also spent 27 years in jail, implying that his incarceration did not affect his ability to become the African National Congress and South Africa’s president.
“Those cases on Mandela were political, not criminal,” Justice Nisar reminded the counsel.
Referring to Sharif’s alleged contemptuous statements, the chief justice said: “Can an individual who has insulted the court become the president of a political party? Anyone who issues contemptuous statements cannot be loyal to the state.”
Justice Ahsan said that any attack on court is a violation of Article 5 of the Constitution and could lead to action in accordance with Article 6.
The chief justice, however, told Raja: “Your party may have some good people. We are not imposing Article 6 on you.”
The chief justice, upon being quoted a precedent from an Indian court by Raja, responded saying: “This is not India, so don’t quote their legal examples here. They never quote our laws.”
Justice Nisar then explained that the verdicts by foreign supreme courts hold little value in Pakistan: “The US Supreme Court permits the burning of flags, allows a convict to become party leaders and thinks that homosexuality is fine,” he stated, ostensibly giving examples of differences between the laws of the two countries.
Meanwhile, Justice Umar Ata Bandial said: “When a person is disqualified, he is out of the parliament. Then how can such a person become the leader of other parliamentarians.”
At this, Raja countered with: “The law does not impose any such restrictions. If someone is convicted, he gets punished for that offence but he does not get stripped of his other rights.”
The case’s hearing was adjourned till February 21.