No matter how severe a crime is, every conviction of an offence assessed through the judicial system must follow the due process of law. Ensuring the fundamental rights of the accused by following standard procedure is one of the key components of our constitution, and hallmarks of democracy.

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, this adherence to due process of law before the elections is now seen as an inconvenience which can be disposed of, especially when convicting politicians. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) politician Haneef Abbasi’s conviction, released late night on Saturday, is included in such cases, where adherence to the strict procedure of law appeared to have become a casualty. The date of the hearing of the judgment was changed from August to just three days before the fateful elections without any rational reason, an irregular action, and one which could be read as deliberate to prejudice the PML-N. From the suspicious timing of the verdict, to it being heard late night at 11pm, to the practice of employing rangers instead of policeman to arrest Abbasi, nothing in the procedure of this verdict was carried out in a non-controversial way.

There are several implications which could be drawn from the forceful early verdict, and none of them are positive. An early verdict of a political candidate goes against the norm of reserving political decisions until after the elections to eliminate risk of any undue influence on the polls. Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the courts that the trial was fair, and that Haneef Abbasi was guilty as sin, this back-and-forth shifting of dates and irregular procedure in such a high-profile case does no favours to the judiciary, which has already been amok with allegations of political leanings. Such irregular procedures give easy ammunition to those who are (not unfairly) alleging pre-poll rigging.

Haneef Abbasi’s effective removal from politics now gives Sheikh Rasheed, his rival candidate in his constituency, NA-60 a major edge. This mere fact makes the verdict look much more suspicious, as the judiciary, particularly the Chief Justice, had previously been criticised for reportedly endorsing Sheikh Rasheed by visiting his constituency just weeks before.

Perhaps, to mitigate matters, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that elections in NA-60 will be postponed. No doubt this is a commendable step to balance out the political influence the verdict would have, but is it too little, too late?