Pakistani Justices Reject Ban for Politicians With Past Convictions

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday overturned a law that barred politicians with past convictions from seeking political office, in a move that paves the way for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to run in parliamentary elections in February.

A seven-justice panel of the country’s top court, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, ruled 6-1 that a person could not be banned for life from running for office. The court said instead that politicians could be barred for a term of only five years.

Critics had said that the law was draconian and used for political persecution.

Mr. Sharif, a three-time former prime minister, was disqualified from running for office for life in 2017. He never finished any of his terms in office, running afoul of the country’s powerful military or, in the latest case, being toppled by corruption allegations.

Mr. Sharif left Pakistan for London in 2019 but returned in October to revive his political career and to take part in the Feb. 8 general elections. Marriyum Aurangzeb, the central information secretary for the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Mr. Sharif’s political party, hailed the decision as a “vindication” for Mr. Sharif.

Ms. Aurangzeb said that Mr. Sharif had been a victim of political persecution. “Only the people of Pakistan have the power through their vote to qualify or disqualify their representatives,” she said.

As the country heads for elections early next month, the atmosphere in the country is tense. Pakistan has been reeling from a political and economic crisis since April 2022, when former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who remains widely popular, was removed from power by a vote of no confidence of Parliament after having lost the support of the powerful military establishment.

Mr. Khan is in jail on several charges, including treason, and candidates from his party are complaining of being denied a level playing field and the right to freely campaign. His party members have accused the state authorities of intimidation, harassment and unwarranted arrests.

Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan shouting slogans demanding his release during a protest in Karachi in August.Credit…Shahzaib Akber/EPA, via Shutterstock

The major political parties have not actively hit the campaign trail, and no big political rallies have been held so far, partly because of uncertainty about the polls and partly because of security fears. Militant attacks have also picked up in the country in recent months.

On Jan. 3, Mohsin Dawar, a prominent politician belonging to the National Democratic Movement political party, escaped an assassination attempt after his convoy came under attack in the North Waziristan region in the country’s northwest. Mr. Dawar’s bulletproof vehicle was hit on its front and side mirrors, though he remained safe. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Last week, the country’s senate passed a resolution calling for a delay in the election, citing security concerns. The resolution was passed by a group of independent senators.

But government officials stressed that there would be no delay or postponement.

“The elections will be held on Feb. 8, as scheduled,” said Murtaza Solangi, the interim information minister.

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