ISLAMABAD - Suspense, expectations and uneasiness filled the air on Wednesday as the people and political parties nervously awaited today’s Supreme Court judgement, which potentially could disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations.

The stocks fell 1.5 percent in early trade after the news overnight that a decision would be announced in Panamagate case on Thursday. The benchmark KSE 100 later rebounded and closed up 1.6 percent.

Though both the government and opposition expressed confidence that their respective stances would be vindicated, they held meetings on Wednesday to decide their future course of action vis-a-vis the different scenarios that could emerge from the conclusion of the drawn-out investigation of the Panama Papers leaks.

A five-member bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, and comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan had reserved the judgment on February 23.

All fingers were crossed as the bench was set to announce the verdict today (Thursday) in Courtroom No 1 at 2pm, though many believed the PM will survive.

The case stems from documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.

Premier Sharif has denied any wrongdoing, but the Supreme Court agreed to investigate his family’s offshore wealth late last year after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests.

Disqualifying Nawaz Sharif would leave his party in power, but it would cause intense turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security after years of violence, and the civilian government and military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.

Banners, posters and flexes carrying pictures of key ruling party leaders were hung in almost all major cities – showing support for PM Nawaz and vowing to go to any extent in case an adverse decision comes out.

As for the verdict, the Supreme Court could take a range of steps. It could clear the prime minister, or order a further judicial commission of inquiry or even declare him ineligible to hold office, as it did in 2012 with then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani over a contempt of court case.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday held a couple of consultative sessions with senior party leaders and his legal team to weigh options regarding the court decision, and his body language at these meetings effused confidence.

Sources informed The Nation that propositions for both for and against verdicts and its fallout were discussed, and it was the consensus view that the issue should be deal with on legal and constitutional grounds.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the main force behind the Panama push, which earlier was hopeful to see the premier’s back, announced Wednesday to hold a big public show in the capital (most probably on Friday) – showing confusion on its part regarding the Panamagate decision.

The rally would mark the launch of a mass contact campaign “against Sharif family corruption”, party leaders said.

As for the Pakistan Peoples Party, close aides of the top party leadership told The Nation that neither Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari nor Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were expecting the exit of the PM.

Zardari however advised Nawaz Sharif to step down if the decision comes against him. In an interview with a private TV channel on Wednesday, he said Premier Nawaz had “never been in the habit of accepting things which went against him.”

He warned: “If there is agitation, it won’t be good for democracy!”

Ruling party meetings

At a ruling party meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he was not waiting for any decision as he was elected by the people to serve their cause and he was focused on it.

“I am on a mission to take the country on the path to progress and prosperity and will continue to tread this path,” he was quoted as telling his colleagues.

Sources said that the prime minister was firm that the next general elections would be held on completion of the government’s mandated term in 2018, and the PML-N government would carry forward its agenda of serving the masses with the aim of bridging the power supply and demand gap.

The PM hoped that the court decision would come in their favour. However, it was decided that the government would accept whatever verdict the court would hand down, keeping open the legal and constitutional options.

The PML-N hawks came up with fiery statements about the upcoming Panamagate decision.

Nawaz Sharif, sources said, however dispelled the impression of violence on part of the PML-N workers being drawn from the banners erected in his support in Lahore and elsewhere in the country, making it loud and clear that Party leaders and workers would not cross the limits.

Sources further said that the premier also directed the party leaders not to bring party activists outside the apex court to avoid any unpleasant happening.

He reportedly also directed Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan to take foolproof security arrangements at SC building and make sure no miscreant could create a scene inside or outside the court.

Interestingly, the ruling party at its meeting decided that the party leaders all over the country would organise public rallies and launch mass-awareness campaign, in response to PTI’s announcement of a mass contact campaign and a rally in the capital.

Like his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was confident that apex court won’t deliver an adverse verdict.

In his public address after the inauguration of a power plant by prime minister on Wednesday, Shehbaz said that if the court verdict would be remembered for two decades then the power projects launched by PML-N leadership would be remembered for four decades.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of Premier Sharif, also sounded confident in her tweets, saying she had never seen her father or any member of the family anxious or concerned over Panama Papers issue.

“That’s what happens when you entrust your matters to Almighty Allah!” she tweeted.

In another tweet, she said, “It’s not about PM speaking, It’s what he’s speaking. His narrative is constructive and about development and progress.”

PTI huddle

The PTI also held a meeting of its Core Committee to discuss the party’s strategy in the wake of today’s SC judgement, and it was attended by almost all key party leaders and office-bearers.

The party is a petitioner in the Panama case, and it is considering capitalising on the issue and getting substantial political gains ahead of next year’s general election.

“Whatever the Panama case decision would be, we have to re-establish our contact with the masses as we have kept the issue alive for more than a year despite the fact that the rulers were describing it as a ‘dead issue’, a PTI office bearer quoted Chairman Imran Khan as saying at the meeting.

The meeting decided to hold a big rally at the famous Parade Avenue of the federal capital – “irrespective of the outcome” of today’s decision. The rally would be the starting point of a mass-contact drive to highlight the alleged financial corruption of the Sharif family, party sources said.

Most probably, the rally would be held on Friday but the final date for it would be decided today (Thursday), PTI’s Central Media Department head Iftikhar Durrani told The Nation. He said the rally would not be possible on Saturday as the party was holding a big gathering in Dadu, Sindh on that day.

Imran Khan during the meeting instructed the senior party leadership to remain in Islamabad for the next three days to quickly devise a final strategy in response to the court decision and the emerging situation.

Durrani said that the main focus of the discussion was the behaviour of the PML-N after banners in favour of the prime minister appeared in major cities ahead of the decision.

“We have tried to assess what the PML-N could do in case of a decision against the ruling family.”

The language of the PML-N is aggressive ahead of the decision, he said, and reminded that the ruling party had a history of attacking the Supreme Court.

“So we are deeply looking into what would be the reaction of the government as we are suspicious of some things,” he said.

Durrani said the government agencies had issued a threat alert on the day of the Panama case decision. The PTI thinks that the alert was meant to stop mobilisation of its workers, he said.

PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while briefing reporters after the meeting, said PTI chairman had asked the party leadership to be ready as a big rally would be announced at a short notice of 24 hours.

Qureshi said government tried its best to brush the Panama issue under the carpet but the PTI and his workers kept the issue alive. Had the PTI and its workers not stood for justice, the issue had died down long ago, he said.

The PTI vice-chairman appreciated the role of the media for keeping the issue alive.

“Whatever the Panama decision could be, I think that people have made a decision on the case,” he said. “We have made it clear earlier that we will not allow the system to derail and wanted to take the accountability process forward,” he added.

PPP’s views

“We don’t know about the verdict until it is delivered but we do not see any chance of the PM’s exit. We are not too excited about it,” said a senior PPP leader.

He said that the PPP also did not see early elections but would “not mind” polls before time.

If held on time, the elections are expected after mid-2018.

PPP’s opposition leader in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah said on Wednesday the Supreme Court verdict could be “miraculous”.

“I am very clear about it [don’t see anything extraordinary] but it is possible that some miracle happens,” he said, while speaking to the journalists.

He said the Panama leaks verdict would either strengthen or weaken Pakistan. “It is a very important decision indeed. We are eagerly awaiting the verdict,” he added.

Another close aide of the PPP leadership said that Zardari and Bilawal would be happy with the outcome whatever it may be.

“If it means early elections, we are ready for it. If PM Sharif goes, it will prove him corrupt and if nothing happens, we will wait for the general elections,” he said, citing the top PPP leaders’ discussions.

PPP Information-Secretary Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed said that the PML-N government had failed to deliver.

“They promised to end power loadshedding in weeks but after four years, we are experiencing a massive shortfall,” he said.

Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal meanwhile continued consulting their aides here as they waited for the verdict. The father and the son also held a meeting with Russian Ambassador Alexey Y Dedov.