LAHORE: A three-member bench of the Lahore High Court on Monday disqualified PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif from contesting the by-election while provisionally allowing his younger brother Mian Shahbaz Sharif to continue working as the Punjab chief minister.
Announcing a unanimous short order, the bench, comprising Justice Abdul Shakoor Parracha, Justice Syed Shabbar Raza Rizvi and Justice M Bilal Khan, referred the petition against Shahbaz to the Election Commission of Pakistan to constitute an election tribunal to decide his eligibility. However, the bench turned down the request of the petitioner to bar Shahbaz Sharif from holding his office.
Earlier on May 5, an election tribunal, comprising two judges of the LHC, had given a split decision on the objections against the Sharif brothers. Noor Elahi, an independent candidate from the NA-123, Lahore, moved the petition against Nawaz Sharif. A freelance journalist, Shahid Orakzai, and a voter, Syed Khurram Shah, filed a petition challenging the unopposed victory of Shahbaz Sharif from the PP-48, Bhakkar, and his candidature for the PP-10, Rawalpindi.
During the hearing on Monday, PML-N Lawyers’ Forum President Khawaja Mehmood said he had objection to the presence of one of the members of the bench. Justice Parracha asked him to file his objection before the office of the court, which could be heard on Tuesday (today).
Earlier on Saturday, a full bench, consisting of Justice Fazal-e-Miran Chouhan, Justice Hasnat Ahmad Khan and Justice Muhammad Ahsan Bhoon, was dissolved after Mehmood objected that one member of the bench was a close relative of PML-Q President Ch Shujaat Hussain while the other judge was closely associated with PML-Q Senator Dr Khalid Ranjha.
Raza Kazim advocate, counsel for the petitioner, Khurram Shah, who had challenged the qualification of Shahbaz Sharif for contesting the election, said he had filed an amended petition for which the bench could issue notices to the respondents to meet the required criteria.
Though the bench did not issue notices on the amended plea, yet it heard all sides, including a deputy attorney general and lawyers defending the candidature of Shahbaz Sharif. Kazim said his objections had not been taken into account when the election tribunal handed down a split decision on his client’s objections against Shahbaz Sharif. He added the election law provided for the formation of a three-member tribunal in case a two-member tribunal failed to decide appeals unanimously.
Ashtar Ausaf and Khawaja Haris advocates said the petitioner had not made arguments before the tribunal and could not seek a decision in his favour because he had no locus standi to challenge the candidature of Shahbaz.
Kazim argued that he was not praying the court to disqualify Shahbaz Sharif or annul the notification of his victory, but a direction for the completion of the process of scrutiny of a candidate. “The process of scrutiny was not completed as his objections remained unheard,” he added.
He pleaded that according to section 5 (a) of the Peoples’ Representation Act 1976, his client, a voter, had the right to challenge the candidature of Shahbaz Sharif. He added the tribunal, under the section, would have to adjudicate on objections against a candidate even if the objector was not a candidate.
When advocate Akram Sheikh, on behalf of the Punjab Assembly speaker, started his arguments, he had a conflict with Justice M Bilal Khan when he (Sheikh) tried to narrate his skills in contesting election matters. The judge asked him to be precise. According to the judge, Akram Sheikh sang his own praises whenever he spoke and was also very loud.
Akram Sheikh, addressing the judge, said he should not be personal and must use dignified language. “And if you say I am loud, I will say you are louder than me,” Sheikh said. Then Justice Parracha intervened and ordered to resume the proceeding.
Resuming his arguments, Sheikh said section 5 (a) did not contain the word ‘person’ but referred to ‘source’, and asked why Justice Bilal had said the section contained the word ‘person.’
Justice Bilal told the counsel he did not refer to the word ‘person’ and he should not address judges in such a manner. Later, Deputy Attorney General Raja Abdur Rehman opposed the petition of Khurram Shah and requested the court to dismiss it. He said the petitioner was not an aggrieved person, so his petition should be dismissed. After his submissions, the bench rose to announce a verdict.
The bench heard arguments till 1pm, when the judgment was reserved and announced after five hours at about 6pm. When the verdict was announced, PML-N workers and lawyers came out of the courtroom and chanted slogans against President Musharraf and the PCO judges.
The objections raised against the candidature of Nawaz Sharif included that an Anti-Terrorism Court of Karachi, under section 402-B of the PPC read with section 7 of the ATA, had awarded him life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 500,000.
His conviction and sentence was upheld by an appellate court in a special criminal appeal. Besides, he was convicted by an accountability court, Attock Fort, in reference No 2 of 2002, decided on July 2007, under section 10 read with Section 9-A (V) of the NAB Ordinance and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 14 years and a fine of Rs 20 million.
The accountability court had also declared Nawaz Sharif disqualified for 21 years from seeking or being elected, chosen, appointed as member or representative of any public office or any authority.
According to the petitioners, convictions of the former prime minister were still intact because they had not been set aside by any court of law till date and it was a settled law that only sentence awarding punishment was pardoned, reprieved, remitted, suspended or commuted, but the conviction remained intact.
Challenging the eligibility of Shahbaz Sharif, the petitioners alleged he had been publicly propagating his biased opinion and acting prejudicial to the integrity of the judiciary, besides defaming and ridiculing the armed forces. “He is also a defaulter of banks,” they alleged.
Source: The News, 24/6/2008