[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that bars Nawaz Sharif [JURIST news archive], former prime minister and current leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website], from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction for "hijacking". Sharif was convicted of the offense for attempting to divert a plane carrying Army commander Pervez Musharraf during a 1999 coup against Sharif that ultimately succeeded. Sharif said the ruling was retributive [PML-N press release] and that President Asif Ali Zardari [official profile; JURIST news archive] offered him a favorable verdict in exchange for his support of Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar [official website]. Wednesday's decision [Dawn report] also nullified the election of Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who had served as the Chief Minister of Punjab since his election last June. The removal of Shahbaz Sharif from office may be viewed as a political power-grab, as Punjab is the most populous and affluent region in Pakistan, and the PML-N holds a sizable plurality over Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] in its provincial assembly.
The Supreme Court's controversial ruling comes amid much turmoil regarding the country's judiciary, which has split the PML-N and PPP, which formerly were coalition partners [JURIST report]. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], ousted after then-president Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan's bar, insists he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].