• Punjab CM advises brother to consult the old guard following PML-N vote
• Ahsan Iqbal criticises PPP for opposing controversial bill in parliament
• ECP restores party election symbol

ISLAMABAD: A day after bulldozing a controversial law through the National Assembly that allowed a disqualified individual to hold party office, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) re-elected ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif as party president for the next four years.

He paid tribute to party workers who had “brought Nawaz Sharif back with their strength” amidst loud sloganeering and celebrations by charged party workers after he was declared elected unopposed by Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal, the chairman of the five-member election committee, during a PML-N general council meeting at the Convention Centre.

Mr Sharif, who stepped down as prime minister after his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case, had to resign as party president due to provisions in the election laws and the party constitution, barring a disqualified person from holding both offices.

Nearly all of the party’s top leaders were present at the general council meeting, which was convened on a one-point agenda: to elect Mr Sharif as party president until October 2021.

Estranged PML-N stalwart and former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was also present at the gathering.

“There have been attempts again and again to keep me out of politics, but you always bring me back again and again,” Mr Sharif told party members and workers, who had converged on the capital from all over the country.

Mr Sharif also praised the legislators who had voted for the election law and scrapped a provision that had been introduced by the dictator, Gen Musharraf.

“We are returning the dictator’s law, which he introduced to keep Benazir Bhutto and I out of politics,” he said, adding: “I pay tribute to the MNAs and senators who have thrown the law back in Musharraf’s face”.

Mr Sharif also launched an indirect attack on the judiciary, saying that he had been disqualified for not receiving a salary from his son, since they couldn’t find anything else against him.

“You should probe whether I have received the salary as prime minister or not, you may find another charge (against me),” Mr Sharif taunted.

“We have rendered services for the country, we are not greedy or selfish. I did no wrong; you know why I have been disqualified,” he told the audience, without elaborating.

“When they found nothing in Panama [Papers case], they disqualified me in Iqama (work permit)”, he said, amidst slogans ‘Na Manzoor, Na Manzoor’ (not acceptable). He said “they” should at least have the courage to tell the truth to the nation that “we found nothing in the Panama [Papers case], thus we are going to remove him with an Iqama.”

He also compared the decision in his case with controversial decisions such as the Molvi Tameezuddin and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto judgements.

Mr Sharif regretted that the violation of the Constitution by four dictators had always been declared legal. “Those who violated Constitutional oath remained sadiq and ameen”, he said, adding that no action committed during dictatorial rule was taken notice of under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

“Look what treatment has been meted out to those who made the country a nuclear power. They were hanged, handcuffed and sent into exile,” he insisted.

The former prime minister regretted that “we” had learnt nothing from the East Pakistan debacle 1971.

“If we do not try to change the situation, Pakistan will not forgive us,” he cautioned.

“It will be the people who will decide in 2018 (during next general elections) as to who is qualified and who is disqualified,” he added.

Earlier, in his speech, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif criticised opponents and particularly targeted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. He said he had sent a number of defamation notices to the cricketer-turned-politician for raising baseless allegations against him, but “Khan sahib is running away”.

“Is accountability for Nawaz Sharif and the Sharif family alone?” the chief minister asked, terming the ongoing accountability process a means of politically victimising the party.

Saying that Nawaz had been given another chance, he advised his elder brother to consult old party hands while taking decisions in the future. “These upstarts who have joined the party for perks and privileges have misguided you,” he said, pointedly.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that parliament had abolished a “black law” introduced by the military dictator in 2002. Mr Iqbal criticised the PPP for opposing the bill in the parliament, saying: “We were expecting the PPP would support us, but it made a compromise.”

Praising Mr Sharif’s economic vision, Mr Iqbal said that only a strong economy could ensure a “strong defence.” He said no dictator or a Supreme Court verdict could separate Nawaz Sharif from the public.

“Those who ask us to do more. No more. Enough is enough,” the PML-N leader said, without elaborating.

Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi termed re-election of Nawaz Sharif as the PML-N president as a “historic occasion” and expressed confidence that the people would endorse this mandate once again in the next general election.

Soon after the meeting, Mr Sharif left for Lahore.

In a related development, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday disposed of the matter of election of PML-N’s party president and restored its election symbol “lion”.

The commission had last week issued a notice to the PML-N following its failure to elect a party president after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and notified that the PML-N “is not eligible” to get the party symbol.

Meanwhile, both the PPP and the PTI criticised Mr Sharif’s re-election, terming it a move that could cause a confrontation between state institutions.

The PTI announced that it had decided to requisition the Senate session so that it could move a resolution to condemn Mr Sharif’s re-election and the government’s act of bulldozing the controversial law through parliament.

PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry condemned Mr Sharif’s speech and expressed the hope that he would have to quit office again after courts rejected the amendment made specifically to install him as party head.

PPP vice president Sherry Rehman in a statement said that Mr Sharif had made the whole country hostage by converting a court matter into a political issue. She said it seemed that the PML-N had decided to pit institutions against each other.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017