Doves, hawks steering PMLN together

September 25, 2021

Islamabad : Keeping their respective narratives alive but in a somewhat low-profile manner, the top hawks and doves in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz are both engaged in activating their party...

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Islamabad : Keeping their respective narratives alive but in a somewhat low-profile manner, the top hawks and doves in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) are both engaged in activating their party and giving the impression that they are bracing for the next general elections.

The polls are still two years away if they are held after the completion of the five-year constitutional term of the incumbent government. But all political parties have launched preparations, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, for the grand electoral fight if elections are called before time.

The main proponents of PMLN’s two clashing narratives are deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz on the one side and Shehbaz Sharif on the other. Some leaders seem caught between the two stands and do not want to annoy either group.

Those pursuing the hard line and soft line have been seen together addressing the division-wise party conventions daily. For the past few days, Nawaz Sharif is regularly occupied with such activities through video link from London. By and large, the two sides are upholding their respective positions but not in a way that hurts the party.

“We not only want Shehbaz Sharif to be active in running the PMLN but also wish Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz to be fully involved in party affairs to give a message to the rank and file that they are on the same page despite holding different views,” a senior PMLN leader informally remarked to The News.

He said that if both the reconciliation and aggressive narratives were followed in unison, as was being done now, it would benefit the PMLN. “But the approach should be balanced, and it should not be unhelpful to the party.”

The PMLN has been experiencing strange scenarios of late: at times, one narrative has overwhelmed the other while on other occasions, the second plan has overshadowed the other. At one time, Shehbaz Sharif, who is the chief advocate of the reconciliation mantra, seems activated. Then, he becomes quiet for some time.

Over the past few days, the PMLN president has been quite active. He has addressed party workers and leaders in Sialkot and Karachi, and keenly participated in the National Assembly proceedings to voice the opposition’s policies.

As Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif have of late simultaneously interacted with the PMLN rank and file, the “clash of narratives” that was damaging the party and confusing the workers, has gone into the background. Some weeks ago, the conflict was at its height, causing concern among the saner elements in the PMLN.

However, despite the clash of narratives, the PMLN faced not a single desertion in its parliamentary parties in the national and Punjab assemblies during this interlude. Even otherwise since the 2018 elections, it has not encountered any significant floor-crossings. Nearly half a dozen of its Punjab Assembly members switched sides a long time ago and have regularly met the Punjab chief minister. Such a small number of defections is a new phenomenon in PMLN history particularly when it has been pushed against the wall by the accountability drive. It is a new PMLN and not the one that existed in 2000 when a large number of its prominent members raced to the new party, the PMLQ, formed during Pervez Musharraf’s tenure.

While clinging to his narrative, Shehbaz Sharif never forgets to mention the achievements of his brother and leader, Nawaz Sharif, by name. It is clear not only to him but all others in the party that the former prime minister is the real vote-getter in the PMLN. His stay in London for almost two years has not dented his influence and grip over the party. Whenever a key decision is to be taken, the PMLN looks to him and strictly follows what he decides. After the easing of COVID-19 restrictions by Britain, a set of PMLN leaders are planning to travel to London to consult with Nawaz Sharif on party matters.

While speaking to the party conventions in different divisions, Nawaz Sharif and other top PMLN decision makers are also reviewing the credentials of the candidates for the next parliamentary polls. Most of its incumbent federal and provincial legislators would be awarded tickets. However, the PMLN would keep rewarding those who have stood with it in hard times as it had done in the Wazirabad and Daska by-elections, which were necessitated by the death of a member of the National Assembly and a member of the Punjab Assembly. In both cases, close relatives of the deceased were fielded as candidates.

The recent elections for the Cantonment Boards have infused more confidence in the top PMLN leadership, which continues to refer to the electoral results to show that it has gained electorally over time despite facing difficulties. It has especially been cheerful over the Punjab results which it sees as an endorsement of the party.

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