In a judgement that will have longstanding implications for the political fabric of Pakistan, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unequivocally ruled that a person disqualified under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution cannot serve as the head of a political party.
The verdict in immediate terms will affect disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was re-elected the head of the PML-N after lawmakers bulldozed the Elections Act 2017 through parliament last year.
Here's how the ruling PML-N ─ which is already on a collision course with the judiciary ─ and others reacted to the judgement:
Nawaz will still take party decisions: Talal Chaudhry
PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry, reacting to the verdict, told Geo News that the recent developments were "against democratic principles". He said that the SC decision would also increase the popularity of Nawaz Sharif.
"This development has not affected Nawaz Sharif, but [it will affect the] institutions," he added.
Nawaz Sharif does not depend on the presidency of the party, Chaudhry added, saying the disqualified leader will still take all decisions and hand out party tickets "till the PML-N exists".
"The courts can declare Nawaz Sharif ineligible as PML-N chief, but they cannot drive him out of people's hearts," Musaddiq Malik, another senior PML-N leader, told DawnNews.
Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb told Geo News the decision was in line with her expectations. She said since the Panama Papers verdict, "all decisions have been taking to target a single personality" — Nawaz Sharif.
"This decision has neither jolted the PML-N nor Nawaz Sharif," she claimed, adding that the decision will only support the narrative Sharif has been peddling: that he was ousted through a weak judgement and all other decisions are being made to defend that "weak decision".
"Nawaz Sharif will devise the strategy of the PML-N and he will take all decisions," she said.
'Legally, the decision is in accordance with Constitution'
Law expert S.M. Zafar, while talking to DawnNews, said that, legally at least, the apex court's decision is in accordance with the Constitution because a person who is not eligible to be a National Assembly member should not be party chief.
He said the parliament normally does not debate SC decisions, but in this case almost all political parties had petitioned against the Elections Act 2017; hence, it is likely the judgement will be discussed in parliament now.
Decision does not apply to Sharif exclusively: PPP
PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said the SC decision should not be taken as against Sharif or linked with his disqualification earlier.
"The decision applies to everyone," he noted.
"How can a person who cannot even become a union councilor become a party chief?" he asked, alleging that the PML-N had tried to use parliament to pass a law (the Elections Act 2017) to suit their needs.
"PML-N wants conflict in the country and they might think that it has become easier to create a divide after this verdict: but the rest of the political parties will not let that happen. We will not let the system be derailed," he stated.
'Nawaz Sharif can still influence party decisions'
Journalist and author Zahid Hussain, while speaking to DawnNews, said Sharif's ineligibility to remain PML-N chief does not mean he will no longer have any influence over the party.
Citing past precedents, Hussain said Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder Altaf Hussain never held a party position, nor did he sign the Senate nominations list submitted to the ECP, but he still took all party decisions.
Similarly, when former military ruler Pervaiz Musharraf imposed restrictions on the PPP, a new party called PPP-Parliamentarians was created, but the decisions for that party were also taken by Benazir Bhutto.
He said two decisions have to follow that will determine Sharif's fate. One is regarding the duration of his disqualification, and the other decision is related to corruption referemces being heard by the accountability court.
"It is yet to be seen how the verdict will affect PML-N's politics, while the ECP will have to decide the validity of the by-elections that have taken place since Sharif's disqualification," Hussain explained.
PTI welcomes SC's 'historic' verdict
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which was one of the petitioning parties in the case against the Elections Act 2017, welcomed the SC decision to remove Sharif as party head, saying the verdict is "historic from every angle"
"With today's verdict, [already] disqualified Nawaz Sharif was once again handed the certificate of disqualification," PTI Spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said in a statement.
He said the PML-N should now accept the verdict, elect a new leader and "let politics progress".
"The country and its entire politics cannot be put on the line to save an individual's corruption."
'Whoever is punished in Pakistan plays victim'
Political-scientist Rasul Bakhsh Rais said it is not fair for anyone in the world to lead a country "while stealing money from the people". He also affirmed that the right to interpret the Constitution lies with the Supreme Court.
"If people support the PML-N, it should stay in government — but that does not mean that [Nawaz] keeps on saying that the decision to disqualify him was wrong," he told DawnNews.
He said whoever is punished in Pakistan plays the victim card, adding: "If the verdict is against them, they claim that they have been avenged for something."
"This is a bogus argument."