LAHORE: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif has warned that the country may face “dangerous consequences” if alleged pre-poll rigging did not stop, and complained that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had been denied a level playing field in the July 25 polls.

Visibly perturbed, Mr Sharif expressed anguish over the “targeting” of his party men by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and their disqualification by the courts.

“A new history of rigging is being written. Only the PML-N is being targeted (by NAB and courts) which amounts to pre-poll rigging. Have we not learned anything from the dismemberment of Pakistan,” he questioned, while regretting the disqualification of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former state minister for privatisation Daniyal Aziz.

Talking to reporters in London, Nawaz Sharif on Thursday said: “A dangerous game is being played, and its consequences will be dangerous for the country. Over the last several months, the court’s decisions have only been directed at me and my party men.”

PML-N leaders regret arrest of Qamarul Islam, who is contesting election against Chaudhry Nisar in Rawalpindi

Mr Sharif asked PML-N workers to step in for their arrested leader Raja Qamarul Islam, and run his election campaign in NA-59 (Rawalpindi), where he will face off estranged PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Earlier this week, NAB arrested Mr Islam in connection with the Saaf Pani Company scam.

Mr Sharif added that he was focused on his wife’s health for now. Begum Kulsoom Nawaz has been on the ventilator since June 14, after suffering a cardiac arrest. “Although my wife’s health is my sole focus these days, but I cannot separate myself from national duty,” he said.

In Lahore, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif also accused NAB of targeting his party and harming their political campaign ahead of the July 25 elections.

The younger Sharif has been issued a third notice by NAB to appear on July 5 before its combined investigation team in Lahore in connection with the Saaf Pani Company scam. The PML-N’s leaders are being summoned by NAB in various cases at a time when there is less than a month left till polling day, he said, adding that this was blatant pre-poll rigging.

“NAB’s vengeful attitude towards the PML-N is an effort to harm our election campaign. The arrests and disqualification of candidates leave a question mark on the transparency of the elections,” he exclaimed.

The PML-N chief further demanded that his party be given a level playing field in the July 25 elections. “The PML-N is presenting itself before the court of people who should be allowed to give their verdict. We have written to the Election Commission to ensure that we get a level playing field under Article 218(3) of the Constitution,” he said, adding that all political parties should be allowed to run their campaigns freely.

Commenting on the arrest of Mr Islam in the midst of his election campaign, the former Punjab chief minister said: “The arrest of Mr Islam is highly condemnable as it places a question mark on the transparency of elections. Keeping the political leadership out of the electoral process is not good for the country,” he said, and added that all institutions of the country must join hands to strengthen democracy.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2018