Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can now run for prime minister for a fourth time. Image Credit: AP file

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday scrapped lifetime bans on contesting elections for people with criminal convictions, paving the way for Nawaz Sharif to run for prime minister for a fourth time.

Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is considered a front runner to win elections scheduled for February 8, with his main rival, former prime minister Imran Khan, in jail and barred from contesting for five years.

In his ruling, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who headed a seven-member panel of judges, said the life bans “abridge the fundamental right of citizens to contest elections and vote for a candidate of their choice”.

The court’s decision was six to one in favour of overruling a previous 2018 decision that imposed life bans on politicians convicted under certain provisions of the constitution.

Sharif, 74, was found guilty in 2017 of dishonest practices.

While Sharif was not an applicant in the latest case, which was filed by other politicians, the ruling makes him eligible to contest the polls as more than five years have elapsed since 2017.

Khan, 71, whose party won the last elections in 2018, will not benefit from the ruling as it abolishes only life bans, which means the cricketer-turned-politician remains disqualified until 2028.

PML-N leader Azam Nazeer Tarar hailed the ruling, saying the lifetime ban was a “murder of justice” while one of Khan’s lawyers, Intazar Hussain Panjutha, described it as the “death of law and the constitution”.