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Wednesday April 17, 2024

A government in Punjab

Dynastic parties pave the way for family members to get important political positions

By Editorial Board
February 24, 2024
The first CM elect of Punjab Maryam Nawaz (1st-R) while taking oath in the Punjab Assembly on February 23, 2024. — Facebook/Maryam Nawaz Sharif
The first CM elect of Punjab Maryam Nawaz (1st-R) while taking oath in the Punjab Assembly on February 23, 2024. — Facebook/Maryam Nawaz Sharif

At long last, Punjab has a government. Usually, given its Punjab, this really should not be such big news. But the past 2-3 years have seen the country’s most prominent and coddled province go through unprecedented governance crises. On Friday, though, the newly elected members of the Punjab Assembly took oath. The session was attended by 313 lawmakers out of which 215 belong to the PML-N and its allied parties while 98 members of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) plus PTI also took oath. PML-N’s Punjab chief minister nominee Maryam Nawaz has been elected to an assembly for the first time and now all eyes will be on her when she becomes the CM of the largest province of Pakistan – something that is pretty much in the bag, given the numbers.

That she will be the first female CM of Punjab is an achievement in itself, though being Mian Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and leader of the PML-N has played a major role in her getting to this position. Dynastic parties pave the way for family members to get important political positions; the PML-N is hardly any different. However, now that Maryam is poised to be the new CM Punjab, she has to prove her mettle. She will have her father to guide her along the way while she rules Punjab and it is expected that he will be overseeing every move she makes but she should use this as an opportunity to show the world what she stands for. Earlier this week, Maryam unveiled a policy statement and her vision for the Punjab government she will be heading. Her focus was mainly on development, with other key areas like agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, IT industry, law and order, among other things. One way forward would be for Maryam Nawaz to also ensure an empowered local bodies system to help govern the province and acknowledge that devolution of power is the key to real democracy. Her real challenge though will be to regain the PML-N’s lost popularity and win back voters and/or gain new voters.

The PML-N has enough numbers in the Punjab Assembly to form a government but the party suffered a blow in the National Assembly and was not able to win as many seats as was expected, leading to a coalition government with the PPP. Analysts have pointed out that while the PML-N has a development model that led to its rise in Punjab over the last few decades, the PDM government’s 16-month performance and rising inflation made people forget what the party did in the past. An electorate has a short memory. This is why when Nawaz Sharif talked about 2017 and Pakistan’s economy improving under his rule, not many could relate to it, which is why the voters were not motivated enough to vote for the PML-N as the party expected. Development and good governance are important but we saw that Usman Buzdar’s three-and-a-half-year rule in Punjab and his bad performance did not stop PTI voters from turning up to vote for their party. The reason was the PTI’s political narrative. As long as the PML-N’s narrative was ‘vote ko izzat do’, its voters were charged. Combined with losing that narrative and the PDM government’s 16-month performance, the PML-N lost its popularity considerably compared to what it was before the vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan. It is now important that apart from focusing on governance and development, a new political narrative is also needed, especially for Maryam Nawaz. She has to carve out a niche for herself. She cannot just be known for being her father’s daughter but needs to prove that she is a good leader, a good administrator, and a good politician. With a younger Sharif heading the government in the PML-N’s seat of power, dare we imagine a newer version of the party? That is the biggest challenge Maryam now faces – along with the difficult task of ensuring she does not succumb to politics of revenge.