Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman believes his moment of political triumph has finally arrived as the Supreme Court will take up the damning Joint Investigation Team report on the offshore assets of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children.
“I think he is gone,” Imran said of Sharif, his political arch nemesis. “The long, dark night is finally over,” he told The New York Times in an interview on Saturday.
But a top aide to the prime minister said a verdict resulting in such a removal would be ‘a judicial coup’.
For more than a year, Sharif has been mired in a bruising controversy over Panama Papers revelations that his family owns luxury flats in London’s upscale neighbourhood through offshore companies.
But Imran has pestered the Sharif family to provide the paper trails for the purchase of the apartments. “Show the receipts,” is a common slogan of PTI supporters.
The controversy has been a godsend for Imran, who has relentlessly campaigned against Sharif ever since he took office in 2013 and has been on a personal crusade to remove him from office.
The JIT report, which the prime minister has rejected as ‘a pack of lies’, has caused uproar in the country, and opposition parties have united in calling for Sharif’s resignation. However, Sharif has decided to stay put and fight it out.
“Now, there will be criminal proceedings against the prime minister,” Imran said. “The whole family has lied to the court. The whole defence has been a fraud.”
On Monday, when the Supreme Court convenes, it could order the opening of a criminal investigation against the prime minister and his children after they are given a chance to respond to the investigation.
But Imran hopes the judges, after having gone through the JIT report, will immediately remove Sharif under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which calls for the disqualification of any lawmaker found to be dishonest.
Government officials, on the other hand, say they expect a prolonged bitter legal battle.
“There is no precedent of the court using Article 62 and 63,” Zafarullah Khan, the minister of state for law and justice, said in an interview. “If a new history is to be made, I cannot say, but there is not a single precedent.”
He also said Sharif’s legal team planned to challenge the findings of the investigation team. “We have confidence in the Supreme Court,” said Zafarullah. “The so-called evidences gathered by the investigative team are based on ‘sourced reports’ and don’t have evidentiary value.”
He added: “It is a political case. The opposition parties are using the shoulder of the courts to have a judicial coup.”
The minister said the ruling PML-N was standing firmly behind the prime minister. “There is a political upheaval, but it has been so for the last four years,” he said. “The opposition has been demanding resignation from Day 1. So what?”
The minister’s nonchalance, however, belied the pressure the government is facing. Back-to-back meetings were taking place among top government officials, aides and party leaders.
Other opposition politicians say they believe the prime minister is running out of time. “The situation is very serious for Nawaz Sharif,” Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q said. “I don’t see how the Sharifs can refute the documents they themselves presented to the court.”
Elahi said the prime minister had no one but himself to blame for the latest crisis. “Someone who has had so much power, he cannot cry foul,” Elahi said. “In the past, the Sharif family managed to manipulate the judicial system. But this time, we have a very different kind of judiciary.”
Imran said he expected early elections, as soon as this fall, if the court removes Sharif. But other major opposition parties say the current parliament should continue its term until 2018, when elections are next scheduled.
Nevertheless, Imran said of Sharif: “I hope next week is his last week. You know that Elton John song ‘Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road’ — I am hoping there will be a big goodbye reception for Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad next week.”
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