ISLAMABAD - The coming days seem quite crucial in the country’s politics as a number of political stories seem well set to get unfolded.

A range of events are likely to happen on judicial and political fronts of the country in the coming days that may shape the course of national politics. This ‘action-packed’ September is going to be quite thrilling because the Supreme Court will be hearing the cases involving PML-N and PPP top leadership. It would be more interesting to see whether the court declares Nawaz Sharif as an absconder in the Toshakhana reference case. 

Debate on what political system is better for Pakistan has also landed in the Supreme Court in the form of a writ petition which is likely to be taken up soon. Government’s reply on the petition would be worth noting. Above all, Opposition parties may soon undertake yet another effort under the banner of APC to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan. On the other hand, the government may soon summon another joint sitting of the parliament to get the FATF-related bills passed after the rejection of two FATF-related bills by the opposition-dominated Senate. The opening event for the month is Nawaz Sharif’s appeal against the Avenfield reference which the IHC is going to take up today (Tuesday). It is worth mentioning here that on Monday, Nawaz Sharif’s counsel on Monday sought adjournment in the case for few days saying the former prime minister is unable to appear before the court today due to his ailment.  

Nawaz Sharif’s appeal against the Avenfield reference: Deposed premier Nawaz Sharif’s appeal along with Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar’s against the Avenfield reference has been scheduled for hearing for September 1 (today). Islamabad High Court will be hearing the case after a passage of 2 years since the last hearing of the appeal was held on September 19, 2018. At the last hearing on July 6, 2018, the IHC had suspended the 10-year, 7-year, and 1-year jail sentences awarded to Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar respectively by an accountability court. The Supreme Court had later upheld the high court’s decision while hearing the NAB appeal against the suspension. The accused have since been out on bail.

The court is also set to hear Nawaz Sharif’s appeal filed against his conviction in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference the same day, (September 1), while NAB’s appeals, one seeking an increase in the former premier’s sentence in the Al-Aziza reference from 7 years to 14 years, and the other against his acquittal in the Flagship Investment reference, have also been fixed for hearing. The final hearing in the Al-Aziza reference is to be heard on September 18 by the same bench. As the court is going to hear the case, the government seems determined to bring Nawaz Sharif back in the country.

The pictures of Nawaz Sharif strolling down the streets of London have been a source of irritation for the government. According to political observers who spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity, said neither the government wants Nawaz Sharif back in the country nor Nawaz himself wants to return to the country at present as has been propagated by his party in the media. “Both the government and the PML-N are issuing statements on Nawaz’s return for public consumption and there is nothing beyond this at the moment,” said a political observer who wished not to be named.

Proceedings to declare Nawaz Sharif as absconder in the Toshakhana reference were deferred on August 25, owing to non-availability of the accountability court judge. The hearing to declare Nawaz Sharif as an absconder will now be held with the main case, on September 9. The accountability court had also issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari over their continuous absence in the Toshakhana case. NAB had accused Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif of getting cars from former PM Yousaf Raza Gillani by violating the rules. It would be interesting to see if the court declares Nawaz Sharif absconder. The court proceedings in the coming days will also determine if Nawaz Sharif really wants to come back to the country as has been propagated by his party in the media.

On the other hand, as the opposition parties are not cooperating with the government in the opposition-dominated Senate to get the FATF-related bills passed, another joint sitting of the parliament seems a matter of course. Passage of the bills is necessary to fulfil conditions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to bring the country out of the grey list of the countries in terms of terror financing. After the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, if a bill passed by one house of the parliament is rejected by the other house, it can become a law only if a joint session f the parliament passes it. The government believes that the opposition wants pack-up of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The opposition has a thin majority of just 9 votes in the joint sitting of the parliament, though the government is hopeful of getting the two bills passed from the parliament. 

Apart from this, the debate on what political system — presidential form of government or parliamentary system — is better for the country has landed in the apex court as a petition has been filed seeking due approval from a joint sitting of the parliament to hold a nation-wide referendum on the issue. The move, if endorsed by the apex court, will pave the way for introducing the presidential system to replace the existing parliamentary one in the country. The petition advocates the presidential system, saying it best suits the country because in exercising his powers, the President requires no help from the parliament to implement his agenda.

National politicians had been against any other political system, specifically the presidential system. The presidential system does not provide stakes to politicians and their parties in the power structure. It has been a perception that efforts were underway since some time for introducing presidential system in the country, especially after PTI came into power. As the case is fixed for hearing, the government’s response in the petition would be interesting to note. From the opposition side, after repeatedly failed attempts to raise a joint front against the PTI government, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman still seems determined to throw PTI out of power. Few days back, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif and JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had jointly announced that an APC would be held after consultations among the Opposition parties. Chairman Qaumi Watan Party Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao is also on record to have said that the Opposition will convene an APC after Muharram. If the opposition parties really decide to get together against the sitting government in the coming days — though chances are dim — the politics of the country may take a new turn. Pakistan’s political instability over time has been a fact and the upcoming events would determine if this instability increases or stems. The coming days would determine what the national politics could look like at the end of 2020.