New Government in Pakistan: Keeping the Balance of Power

Nawaz Sharif has broken world records. Three times, in 1990, 1997 and 2013, he became the head of the Government of Pakistan, and thrice, in 1993, 1999 and 2017, resigned or was ousted. The first time, he resigned at the same time with the president, whose conflict with Sharif created a political crisis. The second time, Sharif was a victim of the generals, who installed a military dictatorship for a long nine years.

This time, everything appears to be not as dramatic. The party that he heads, the Pakistan Muslim League, won a convincing victory at the May 2013 parliamentary elections and has preserved a solid majority in the lower chamber of parliament, which the government answers to.

At first glance, the Supreme Court decision made on July 28 on his dismissal appears to be a case of excessive authority, but this is not the case. The court acted in accordance with the constitution, which states that only an elected member of parliament can occupy the position of prime minister.

A number of articles of the Constitution (62-63) detail the cases that may warrant the disqualification of a member of the lower chamber of parliament. The highest court in its entirety (five judges) issued the decree that deprived Sharif of his MP mandate, accusing him of “dishonesty” (concealing information about his share in an offshore company).

Sharif resigned on the same day and members of his party began consultations to decide, which one of them would head the cabinet. The previous government’s oil minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was chosen. The cabinet he created is unusually large, consisting of members of the Pakistan Muslim League, which remains the ruling party until the next elections, scheduled for June 2018.

This is not the first time when the Supreme Court dismisses the Prime Minister. In 2012, it disqualified the head of the cabinet Yousuf Raza Gillani for contempt of court. The situation back then developed similarly to the one now. Having the majority in the parliament after the 2008 elections, the People's Party of Pakistan nominated another representative for the post of prime minister and preserved the constitutional order until the next election.

Will Pakistan's history continue to develop according to this scenario? It should be noted that after the military left the political scene in 2008, a triangular power structure developed in Pakistan. One of the vertices of the triangle is the parliament and the government, the other is the army, the leadership of the armed forces, the third is the judicial corporation, the Supreme Court and the High Courts of the provinces.

The relationship between the vertices of the triangle has never been smooth. Each one tends to defend its private interests. However, while judicial and military amalgamations act as a united front, as a general rule, among the politicians, naturally, competition prevails. In these cases, representatives of the two other vertices are not averse to it.

At the moment, there appears to be a certain balance of power. Public opinion on the whole received the decision to dismiss Sharif negatively. He remains popular with voters as a political figure and has already begun an outreach campaign, which could be regarded as the beginning of the election campaign. However, the Supreme Court not only disqualified the prime minister, but also handed over the case materials on charges of Sharif and his family members for corruption to the Auditor General of Pakistan.

Thus, Sharif, his adult children and his brother Shahbaz, the chief minister of Punjab, the country’s largest province, all face new troubles. The Auditor General has been given six months to investigate. The decisions will become known at the decisive pre-election stage and can significantly impact their course and outcome.

It appears that the new government of Pakistan in the near future will act according to the line of the previous cabinet in both domestic and foreign policy. The new Prime Minister, Abbasi, as has been noted in the Pakistani press, has personal connections with the military. His father served in the Air Force, and his wife's father was at one time in charge of a powerful ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence).

Abbasi is an engineer, educated in the United States, and is known to be supporter of using liquefied natural gas (LNG) to solve the country's extremely acute energy problem. This could improve the prospects of implementing the previously agreed project for building a North-South pipeline, with Russia’s participation, connecting the main port city of Karachi with Lahore, the capital of Punjab.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.