Nawaz Sharif has made a defiant comeback as head of Pakistan’s ruling party, more than two months after being disqualified as prime minister on charges of corruption.
Mr Sharif was elected unopposed on Tuesday, a day after his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz forced through a controversial new law allowing politicians disqualified from holding public office to continue as leaders of political parties.
The development marks a dramatic turnround for the three-time prime minister, after Pakistan’s supreme court ruled in July that he had not declared his full wealth when he stood in the 2013 general election and so was unfit for office.
In his acceptance speech on Tuesday, Mr Sharif accused the supreme court of subverting the will of the Pakistani people, who voted him into power in 2013 for the third time.
“I believe that the only way to consolidate democracy is to respect the mandate given by the people,” he said. “The use of law to change the mandate of the people must end.”
Amid chants of “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif” by hundreds of party workers at Islamabad’s convention centre, Mr Sharif promised to lead his party to a more decisive victory in elections due next year.
“The PML-N will return with a bigger mandate in 2018 and our journey will continue,” he said.
The supreme court ruling in July, which followed revelations about the Sharif family’s wealth in the leaked Panama Papers, appeared to have curtailed Mr Sharif’s three-decade political career. Many of the allegations surrounded his children’s apartments overlooking London’s Hyde Park, which they owned via offshore companies.
Since his ouster, Mr Sharif has helped install Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, one of his most loyal allies, as prime minister, and seen his wife Kulsoom Nawaz win his recently vacated Lahore seat in a by-election.
On Monday, the PML-N successfully drove a bill through parliament.
Opposition parties reacted with fury to Monday’s passing of the bill that allows parties to be led by politicians disqualified from holding public office.
Imran Khan, the former cricketer and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, tweeted: “Today a mockery was made of the constitution simply to rescue Nawaz Sharif politically.”
Commentators have warned, however, that Mr Sharif’s return to the head of the PML-N does not necessarily prefigure a comeback as prime minister, not least because he faces possible criminal indictment during a court hearing next week. His children also face charges of owning wealth beyond their means.
“Nawaz Sharif’s return as party president still does not end the challenges he faces in the courts,” said Ayaz Amir, a political analyst. “The unresolved question is that Nawaz Sharif still faces court cases and he has been disqualified by the supreme court.”