ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday said the Supreme Court would probe allegations of rigging in last year’s elections, in a bid to diffuse a political crisis that was immediately rejected by an opposition leader.
The announcement was made two days ahead of Independence Day celebrations, when followers of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri plan to march on the capital to demand that the government step down ahead of a fresh vote.
Addressing the nation on the television, Sharif said: “The government has decided that for independent and transparent investigations into the allegations of rigging, a three-member commission of Supreme Court judges should be formed.
“My dear countrymen, after this step is there any room for a protest movement? I leave you to answer this question,” he added.
But the proposal was rejected by Khan, who heads the third largest party and has called the 2013 election the most fraudulent in the country’s history.
“You (Sharif) should resign, then a judicial commission should do its work. Because if you are at the helm, there cannot be any justice,” he told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.
He also complained that the government was harassing and detaining his party members, adding: “You are digging your own grave by stopping and arresting our workers.”
Khan’s rejection of a judicial probe was an apparent U-turn on an interview he gave to a TV station earlier in which he said he had faith in the Supreme Court and would trust any decision it made.
Sharif’s 2013 victory saw Pakistan’s first handover of power from one civilian-led government to another, in polls that local and foreign observers called credible.
He said economic progress had been made under his government and the opposition groups’ protests would reverse the tide.
Foreign exchange reserves have doubled from $7bn to $14bn under Sharif’s tenure while the rupee has stabilised to around 98 to the dollar after hitting highs of around 110.
Analysts have said the opposition groups are playing into the hands of the powerful military establishment which wishes to cut the civilian government, with which it has disagreements, down to size.