Addressing a rally in Rawalpindi, deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify him from office last month over undeclared wealth was an “insult to voters.”
The speech late on August 9 marked the first time Sharif has publicly commented on the court’s ruling and came after he launched a defiant procession from Islamabad to his party’s stronghold in Lahore to demonstrate that the court ruling hadn’t diminished his influence.
“I was not allowed to complete my third term,” Sharif said. “No prime minister in Pakistan has ever been allowed to complete his term. This joke has been repeated for 70 years and Pakistan can no longer bear it. It’s an insult to the voters.”
Sharif asked supporters to stand up for the “rule of law” and said he wanted to start a debate over why no elected prime minister had completed their full term in Pakistan, which has been ruled by army generals for more than half of its 70-year history.
“This mammoth crowd in Rawalpindi is in fact the start of a revolution,” he said, speaking from his fortified vehicle behind bulletproof glass. “This is the court of the people.”
Sharif’s “caravan” took 12 hours to travel the 20 kilometers from Pakistan’s capital to Rawalpindi due to big crowds estimated as large as 30,000 that were walking and driving alongside his car.
The former prime minister’s spokesman said he would stay the night there before continuing to Lahore, where Sharif hopes tens of thousands of supporters will take to the streets in a show of force.
Sharif launched the “caravan” from Islamabad to his hometown of Lahore, some 400 kilometers south of the capital, despite concerns voiced by close advisers about security amid the large crowds.
Thousands of Sharif party supporters thronged the capital to take part in the rally, setting up camps all along the itinerary.
The march is taking place amid tight security, with large numbers of police officers and paramilitary soldiers deployed both in Islamabad and along the Grand Trunk Road, the main highway connecting the capital with Lahore.
Sharif, 67, 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-member panel’s ruling came immediately after an investigative committee concluded that Sharif’s family could not account for what it said was vast wealth in offshore companies.
The court also ordered a criminal probe into the Sharif family’s assets.
Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, which has a solid majority in parliament, elected his close aide Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as his replacement.
In a display of party unity, Abbasi hugged Sharif as he boarded a vehicle along with his supporters at the outset of the trip in Islamabad.
Sharif, who was prime minister three times, insists his removal from office did not mean the end of his political career. He said he plans to file a review petition in an effort to get his disqualification reversed.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.