Pakistan's supreme court on Friday disqualified deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif from holding office for life.
Mr Sharif, 67, resigned in July after the court disqualified him from holding office over an undeclared source of income, but the veteran leader maintains his grip on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
Friday's ruling addressed an ambiguity over his disqualification and whether he was barred from office for life or a specific period.
A five-member bench on Friday ruled that under the country's constitution, no person once disqualified from office by the top court — as Mr Sharif was — can hold public office again.
Mr Sharif, who has been elected and removed as prime minister three times since the 1990s, has faced a relentless anti-graft campaign led by former cricket star and opposition leader Imran Khan. His party pressed the top court to investigate the premier’s business dealings following the so-called Panama Papers leaks in 2016 showed the Sharif family used offshore accounts to buy high-end London properties.
“The lifetime disqualification will damage the party in elections besides putting deeper cracks into the party ranks,” Mazhar Abbas, a Karachi-based political analyst, told Bloomberg.
“It’s important to see what political posture Nawaz Sharif takes in reaction to the court’s order, this is the biggest question,” Mr Abbas said. “Whether he would wait for the PML-N to win the elections or take aggressive steps like boycotting the ballot or starting street protests.”
Mr Sharif, his three children and absentee finance minister Ishaq Dar now face criminal proceedings on allegations that they purchased overseas properties illegally. They deny any wrongdoing and Mr Sharif has painted himself as a victim of rival politics.
Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb from the ruling party called Friday's judgment a “joke”. Mr Khan and his Movement for Justice has also faced court pressure and Friday’s ruling bans his former deputy and one of the party’s funders, Jahangir Tareen, from elected office.
This year the supreme court also ordered Mr Sharif’s removal as president of the ruling PML-N. However, his younger brother and chief minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz, is now heading the party and is its presumptive prime ministerial candidate for national elections scheduled for July.
The only way to bring Nawaz Sharif “back is they come into power through the election and amend the constitution”, said former judge Shaiq Usmani.