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Thursday April 25, 2024

The Sharif factor

By Editorial Board
January 29, 2023

One is tempted to tag every PML-N attempt at politics these days with ‘better late than never’. And so it is with Maryam Nawaz’s return to Pakistan after a four-month stay in the UK. The PML-N’s senior vice president and newly-appointed chief organizer of the party has apparently been sent by father Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to lead rallies and meetings ahead of the upcoming elections in Punjab, and one would assume also prep the ground for the general elections whenever they may be held. All that would be fine, if it weren’t for the reported fissures within the party – who gets to lead being the main question now as the contest seems to boil down to Uncle vs Niece. This may be partly the reason more senior analysts have been advising Nawaz Sharif return to the country, regardless of cases, possible jail time, or any other consideration.

It is largely a given that the PML-N only unites under Nawaz Sharif with the other Sharifs divisive figures in one or the other band of supporters. Brand Nawaz Sharif is Brand PML-N: pro-development, pro-liberal economy, pro-infrastructure – and of late somewhat pro-independent thinking. Till now Maryam’s brand has been waging a ‘battle for justice’ for her father. To become a leader in her own right – and she has every potential and possibility to be one – she will need to rise above this and move beyond on to issues that matter to the people: what are Maryam Nawaz’s thoughts on the economy, for example? It may not be the best omen that as soon as she landed she decided to defend Ishaq Dar. There is also the idea that if Maryam is interested in getting a position – PM? CM? – then her brand of resistance politics may not go down very well with those that lurk behind the shadows of power in the country.

Not all is lost though for the senior Sharif and his daughter. But a lot depends on what they do next. Losing Punjab is an absolute no-no for the PML-N. If they do so, they will become even more irrelevant than how naysayers are seeing them as right now. Some political observers believe it will be a difficult task for Maryam to lead her party without Nawaz Sharif’s return, who Maryam says will be back in Pakistan soon. For any coming election in Punjab, Maryam should ideally stay back from trying to get a big position for herself. While dynastic politics may never really go away, the optics of the Sharif family hoarding all senior government positions is just not going to fly with the new urban middle class voter, a constituency the PML-N may want to tap in the face of the savvy PTI. But most importantly Nawaz Sharif needs to come back. Without Nawaz, the PML-N will find it difficult to contest the next elections given the incumbency issue. Without Nawaz, Maryam’s magic may not work on its own. The Noon supremo needs to realize that his party is in the slumps, and their defeatist attitude could be stemming from the fact that their main leader is sitting in London but insisting also on calling the shots. Maryam is a crowd-puller but she has some way to go before she can take over her father’s place. It is also important that the PML-N leadership gets its act together and not run away from elections. Such impression leads people to wonder whether Nawaz ever planned to even come back before these elections. The party may also want to look into its own ministers and politicians’ gripes with the stranglehold of one family on every senior slot. A little opening up to people who have stood with them for years can only help.