Panamagate verdict to decide Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s future

Islamabad, April 19
Pakistan is awaiting with growing suspense the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case on Thursday, with talk in Islamabad even suggesting the ruling could force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down and make way for an interim premier from his party. At a meeting of the PML-N party held in Islamabad on Wednesday and chaired by Sharif, leaders debated whether the party should go for early elections or for an interim prime minister, in which case the choice of candidate would have to be finalised. The two favourites for the position are finance minister Ishaq Dar, related to the Sharif family through marriage, and Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. Other candidates are also being considered, PML-N officials said. The case pertains to leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca that showed Sharif’s children, including heir apparent Maryam Nawaz, owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars. The Supreme Court has raised questions about Maryam’s finances.
Anticipating an adverse verdict, the Karachi Stock Exchange, the premier bourse, continued to fall. At the end of trading on Tuesday, the Pakistan Stock Exchange’s (PSX) benchmark index recorded a fall of 250.75 points to end at 46,874.37. The market also registered a fall when it reopened on Wednesday morning.
Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, a close aide to chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, said the PML-N is quite optimistic that the apex court’s decision will not affect the prime minister since his name was not in the Panama Papers case and there was no evidence of wrongdoing against him.
“However, in case the decision somehow affects the premier, I am of the view that we should go into the polls as per schedule in 2018,” Sanaullah told a local newspaper.
At the same time, PML-N leaders have started making arrangements for a spike in political activity in the coming days. Banners have gone up eulogising Prime Minister Sharif and the party.
A PML-N leader told the media on Wednesday that the party would not give the field to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to cash in on the Panama Papers verdict. “Though we are sitting silent right now, we have our plans to deal with the post-Panama verdict situation,” he said.
PTI, the main petitioner in the Panama Papers case, said it is excited and hopeful that Sharif would be sent home on
Thursday. “We are expecting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in the light of evidence presented against him in the court,” PTI secretary general Jehangir Tareen told Dawn newspaper.

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