ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s beleaguered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stepped down Friday after the Supreme Court ordered him removed from office over allegations of corruption, plunging the nuclear-armed nation into a political crisis.
The five-judge panel acted on petitions filed by Sharif’s political opponents alleging that he and his family failed to disclose assets stemming from last year’s “Panama Papers” leaks. The court ordered that criminal charges be filed against Sharif and four relatives.
In a unanimous decision, the court said he had not been “truthful and honest,” and it also dismissed him from the National Assembly — the lower house of Parliament.
Sharif immediately resigned in what he called a show of respect for the judiciary, even though he said the court’s decision was unjustified.
The landmark ruling threw Pakistan, which is battling attacks by Islamic militants, into political disarray and raised questions about who will succeed Sharif — and even who is running the country at the moment.
The court asked Pakistan’s figurehead President Mamnoon Hussain to “ensure continuation of the democratic process.” He is expected to convene the National Assembly once Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, which enjoys a comfortable majority, nominates a successor to serve as prime minister until general elections are held in June 2018.
Sharif’s political opponents danced in the streets and opposition leader Imran Khan urged them to gather Sunday in the capital of Islamabad to celebrate their legal victory against the “corrupt ruling elite.”
Khan, a former cricket star, described the disqualification as a “good omen” for Pakistan. He said at a news conference that he hopes all those who “looted” the nation’s wealth would face a similar fate.
Sharif’s party expressed its disappointment and urged supporters to keep calm and avoid confrontations.
“This decision is not surprising, but we are disappointed,” Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters.
The 67-year-old Sharif, who has served three separate stints as prime minister, has a history of rocky relations with Pakistan’s military, the country’s most powerful institution. He was first dismissed from power by the army’s hand-picked president in 1993 about midway through his five-term term. In 1999, military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a bloodless coup and exiled him to Saudi Arabia.
Sharif’s supporters suggested the military applauded the court decision because it…