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National

April 21, 2017

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Verdict makes all happy, but Zardari

Verdict makes all happy, but Zardari

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Leader of the House in National Assembly Nawaz Sharif survives as prime minister of the country – as well as the government and his party’s long-term prospects. So no immediate threat of his replacement in sight, as was being speculated widely till Thursday afternoon by the opposition quarters. They were sure to dent the ruling party, hoping for replacement of the premier and resultant succession race, which would kick-start infighting in the party. And then, the media onslaught would do rest of the work to minimise PML-N’s prospects in Election 2018.

On Thursday afternoon, just a block away from the Supreme Court, some PML-N legislators heard the news at the Parliament House lobbies, and ministers’ chambers. The rest were ducked in the lodges nearby, waiting impatiently for the big news. Jubilant they appeared as a knee-jerk reaction. The apex court majority verdict has worked for the premier, partially for now.

Politically, his mere survival at this juncture sent a signal of rejuvenation across his voters and supporters, subdued for the last one year or so in the wake of opposition, especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s onslaught. For now, Sharif seems out of danger, but not fully. His aides, however, think he has withered the storm, and can deal with the after-effects well. The Supreme Court may issue a clean chit to him, or otherwise, in the first week of July as per time line for the joint investigation team (JIT). Until then, the ruling party has got a somewhat narrow space to act, and fast on political and economy fronts.

No second guess that the premier and his party would have to fast-track their hallmark developmental, energy projects etc. Every important minister of the PML-N is also mindful of the fact they would have to end power outages by Dec 2017. That’s the key to their repeating 2013, or even better in 2018 elections. Anything short of it would dent their next election prospects.

They also plan to come up with a people-friendly budget on May 28, the day they conducted atomic tests in 1998. Sharif’s mainstream political rivals – Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari – know in their heart of hearts that politically Premier Sharif has been let off the hook. That’s why they received the judgement with a pinch of salt. Imran’s take away was a JIT, and especially the two senior judges declaring Premier Sharif’s conduct worthy of disqualification. Nothing more.

Politically, he has exhausted all the options from sit-in to the public meetings in post-Panama leaks days. And then the anti-climax of Islamabad lockdown.

With the latest message from the military establishment that they would not allow anyone to “rock the boat”, the PTI leader has been left with some ‘toothless’ options. He can lodge repeated appeals and give assurances to his party workers and voters, hoping against the hope that the JIT would come up with some drastic recommendations to disqualify Premier Sharif. And if nothing goes his way, wait for the next elections to convince the Pakistani voters that Sharifs failed to deliver. Until now, Imran and PTI thrived on passing mere judgements outside the Supreme Court on every hearing. That was self assurance propagated well through media coverage. The apex court judgement at hand, however, didn’t go well with the enthusiastic PTI voters and supporters, especially thousands of social media activists, fans. Imran didn’t beam his hallmark at all, confident body language as he entered the Supreme Court premises on Thursday afternoon. Same was the case with his press conference at Banigala after the judgement. His struggled with words and emotions, in trying to put up a brave face. Shah Mehmood Qureshi could be heard quipping him with an argument that all judges of the Panama case bench have rejected evidence provided by the Sharif family. Then why this JIT? Jehangir Tareen was also doing his bit to lift Imran’s morale. An hour later at his press takeout, former president Asif Zardari could be seen in more bitter mood, dismissive about the legal side of the judgement. Demanding half heartedly from the premier to resign, Zardari sahib was blunt enough to accept nothing doing on this front. He, however, didn’t give any deadline for agitation as usual.

Sitting nearby in a compulsive silent mode, Bilawal Bhutto was a silent spectator as elder Zardari tried to kill two birds with one stone, may be naively. Repeating PPP’s four points that courts have been historically soft on PML-N, he criticised Imran Khan for giving this much space to Premier Sharif by unilaterally filing the petition without enough homework (he referred to opposition’s ToRs for the proposed judicial commission).

In the same breath, Zardari sahib argued had it been Eitzaz advocating joint opposition’s case before the apex court, the results would have been different. He however didn’t not elaborate Eitzaz sahib winning any constitutional petition for PPP in the past, especially for the late Benazir Bhutto government’s two dismissals in 1990 or 1996.

Sitting nearby, Barrister Aitzaz could only agree but in a passive tone. The seasoned lawyer, who led the lawyers\ moment till restoration of superior judiciary in 2009, was disappointed with the Panama case judgement. One major take away from Imran-Zardari press talks. They offered gratitude to the senior most dissenting judges. They demanded Sharif’s swift resignation even knowing fully well that’s not going to happen at all. Imran Khan was a bit soft on Sahrif telling everyone that the premier can return to his seat of power as and when inquiry by the JIT completes, and if the apex court declares him innocent. Isn’t it old wine in a new bottle? The major take away for PTI on Thursday was a mere photo aired on mainstream and social media – Imran Khan sharing laughters and sweets with top party leaders. It seemed a bit stage managed. No jubilations beamed from their faces, body language. But that was a compulsory reaction of sorts to PML-N workers and leaders distributing sweets across the country. And both Zardari and Imran mentioned this especially in their respective press conferences. They did mind it.        

 

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