The coming year promises an action-filled news cycle, what with the PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq having revealed that PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif is all set to return to Pakistan in January 2023. Nawaz, who has been in self-exile in London for three years now, will return to award party tickets to candidates for the upcoming elections. Over the last three years, many PML-N leaders have claimed – sporadically – that Nawaz will be returning soon but political pundits had always predicted that he would only return near the elections and once his cases had somehow been settled. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son, Suleman Shehbaz, is also returning from his self-imposed exile this week. Some observers are of the view that, given recent happenings, the Sharifs are more confident that Project Imran has indeed been disbanded and that now there will not be any schemes afoot to arrest the PML-N leadership. It is now not much of a secret that the PML-N, its supporters and quite a few political analysts are clear that, in order to launch Imran Khan, weak cases were registered against the PML-N leadership and attempts made to keep the Sharifs out of politics. However, now that Imran is – at least for the moment – not the blue-eyed project, there is the idea that the same will not happen this time around.
The PML-N has been asking for a level-playing field quite openly and its leaders say it is not possible for them to go into elections without the magic potion that makes them electorally strong – Mian Nawaz Sharif. Political experts say that, while Imran Khan is at the peak of his popularity, the only leader who can compete with him is Nawaz. But they also add that due to the challenges that the government is facing, especially when it comes to the economy, even Nawaz’s vote-bank and popularity may be no match for Imran and the PTI. The government is keen on holding the elections once it completes its tenure because of the incumbency factor and the economic challenges it faces. With winter here, the gas crisis will also hit every household soon enough. Under the circumstances, it would be foolhardy for the government to go for early elections despite the political pressure by Imran Khan.
One is not sure how seriously the PDM government will – or should – be taking Imran and his threats now in any case, seeing how the provincial assembly resignations fiasco has played out. While the PTI is (yet) again taking out rallies across Punjab, the party and its allies are still not sure of when to dissolve the Punjab Assembly. Some political observers have said that not only does the PML-Q want to stay in power till the next elections, even PTI MPAs in Punjab are not in favour of dissolution of the provincial assembly just a few months before the general elections, as they need time to complete their development projects in their respective constituencies. It is a tricky situation for the PTI, which has tried everything and now only has the assemblies to dissolve as its last resort. But the government would rather hold provincial assembly elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than holding early elections given the economy, the rise in terrorism, and the overall polarization. We repeat for nth time: the PT should come back to parliament, talk election reform with the government and go on from there.