Within days of sweeping to victory on six of the seven National Assembly seats he had contested in the Oct 16 bye-polls, former prime minister Imran Khan has been disqualified from being chosen as or remaining a member of parliament under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution.

The sentence against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief was passed unanimously by a five-member bench of the Election Commission of Pakistan over his failure to properly account for monetary proceeds from the sale of gifts he had received from foreign dignitaries while he was prime minister. Apart from depriving him of the seats he had just won, the verdict also formally removes Khan from the National Assembly seat he had retained in 2018.

While the Election Commission of Pakistan’s findings in the Toshakhana case may not have been completely unexpected the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf seemed to have an idea of what was coming, given how persistently it had been assailing the commission’s partiality it must be said that the sentence seems unnecessarily harsh.

Instead of participating in and precipitating the technical knockout of yet another popular leader on flimsy grounds, the Election Commission of Pakistan should have considered turning the matter over to the tax authorities. It has, instead, issued a verdict that does not seem very different in intent and effect from the one disqualifying PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif over an iqama and undeclared salary.

In both cases, the judgments have looked like an aberration from the norms of our legal system a system which is otherwise known for flawed investigations, weak prosecution, and abysmally low conviction rates.

It is also difficult to believe that justice was done in either case because both leaders seem to have been handed disqualification verdicts after they fell out with the all-powerful establishment. For that reason alone, even if the Election Commission of Pakistan’s intent and legal reasoning may be right, few will expect the verdict will hold up under the test of time. Just like most of the headline ‘open-and-shut’ cases of yesteryear against other politicians which are now imploding rather spectacularly we can expect that this judgment, too, will be overruled when the wind starts blowing from a different direction.

The country is in crisis, yet we seem to be making attempt after attempt to put out fires with petrol. Our civilian leaders should realise that they must sit together, set rules and negotiate a way out of the present crisis. There are no winners where things stand at the moment, and it would be folly to ignore the growing discontent and anger in the hyperpolarised citizenry any longer.

The political stalemate must be broken unless the parties wish to rule a country broken by an economic crisis and divided bitterly along partisan lines. There will be little left but ashes to rule if things continue in the manner that they have in the past few months.

This article first appeared in Dawn.