A Pakistan court Thursday disqualified Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for violating the country’s election laws, in another major blow to the ruling party as it prepares for nationwide polls due later this year.
The ruling by the Islamabad High Court was the latest in a series of court decisions that have gone against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party (PML-N).
Last July, its leader Nawaz Sharif was ousted from the premiership by the Supreme Court over graft allegations and then barred from politics for life by another decision earlier this month.
Asif — who had earlier served as the country’s minister of defense — was found guilty of failing to declare several work permits in the United Arab Emirates, a violation of Pakistan’s election laws.
“We declare that the respondent was not qualified to contest the General Election of 2013,” read the court’s ruling, referring to the country’s last nationwide polls.
Asif, a PML-N stalwart and close Sharif aide, is widely seen as an outspoken critic of military interference in Pakistan’s politics. He was serving his fourth consecutive term as a member of the National Assembly, the Pakistani parliament’s lower house, before the verdict.
Former prime minister Sharif and his supporters have repeatedly denied allegations of corruption, suggesting they are victims of a conspiracy driven by Pakistan’s powerful military to reduce the power of their party.
Following the latest decision, Sharif lambasted the courts and what he called the persecution of the country’s politicians by the military. “Not a single prime minister has completed a term in the history of the country, we must find out why,” Sharif said in a televised address to supporters.
Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history — roughly half of it under military rule — to be removed before completing a full term.
The Islamabad court’s ruling against Asif comes months ahead of expected general elections, which will pit the PML-N against its main rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) led by former cricket star Imran Khan.
The PTI praised Khawaja’s ousting Thursday, boasting the verdict would energize its ranks ahead of a rally over the weekend in Lahore — Pakistan’s second-largest city — that was set to highlight alleged corruption within the PML-N ranks.
“This decision is a great victory for PTI,” Fawad Chaudhry, the party spokesman, told reporters outside the court.
Despite several rulings against the PML-N, the party has won a string of recent by-elections, proving it will likely remain a force in the next polls.