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July 15, 2017

Can PML-N split?


July 15, 2017

Can the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), the largest political party in the country, would remain intact in the post-Panama verdict under the leadership of Sharifs or split in case of any adverse decision?

So far, Sharif has kept the party intact and there is no sign of cracks or defection, as he has called the meeting of the parliamentary party amid reports that a resolution reposing confidence in his leadership would be placed before the National Assembly.

As PML-N finalises its strategy after back-to-back meetings, the PM has decided to challenge the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, take all legal measures available and not to succumb to the pressure from the opposition parties.

The PTI, which so far has been demanding PM's resignation and was ready to accept another PM from the PML, has now changed its stance. It has demanded fresh elections as well as resignations of Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and Ishaq Dar.

The PML has rejected both demands of early polls and resignation. The party leaders say early elections do not suit the PML, and it would go for an alternative PM idea in the worst scenario.

PML-N allies including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Awami National Party (ANP) and National Party (NP) too are of a considered opinion that Nawaz Sharif has a constitutional right to stay as the PM till the final verdict of the Supreme Court in Panama case.

The PML and its allies are in a comfortable position in the National Assembly, and two provincial assemblies – Punjab and Balochistan, while even the combined opposition is not in a position to move a vote of no-confidence. There are cracks in the opposition ranks also over the question of fresh elections. Neither the PPP nor the PTI are in favour of dissolving the Sindh and KP assemblies.

It will be interesting to see how many MNAs would turn up in Friday’s parliamentary party meeting as the PML-N has decided to present a strong show of strength. But, the real test for the PM or the PML-N is not on Friday, but after Monday, in case of any adverse decision by the SC bench.

PM's legal team assured him of a long legal battle while few party leaders were of the view that early decision can also be expected, the way things have progressed.

Sharif has a rich experience of almost 40 years in politics, during which he remained chief minister of Punjab twice and the prime minister thrice. He has a team of veterans like Raja Zafarul Haq, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Shahbaz Sharif, Khwaja Mohammad Asif, Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Pervaiz Rasheed, Ishaq Dar, Mushahidullah, Amir Muqam, Sardar Mehtab, Ahsan Iqbal, Sheikh Aftab, Ms Tehmina Daultana, Rana Sanaullah, Abid She Ali and others.

They know better than anyone else about party's loyalists. So far, he has kept the party intact. But, will it remain the same in future? Any adverse decision would be a test for the PML-N stalwarts.

The PM and the PML-N can still engage the opposition on the point that Sharif would step down in case of a clear-cut decision of the Supreme Court. However, they believe that it is their legal right to challenge the JIT, and they want the opposition and bar associations to wait till announcement of the SC decision. Sources said some ministers are likely to meet leader of the opposition, Khursheed Shah, and others to convince them. Therefore, we may see lots of political manoeuvring before July 17.

There are also differences within the opposition parties over the post-Sharif strategy. They are undecided about early elections. Both the PPP and the PTI are in favour of retaining KP and Sindh.

The PML-N can defuse the situation if it announces that the PM would quit in case the SC final decision comes against him and he would name the new leader of the house. This would be in accordance to the constitution and could defuse the political tension.

Unfortunately, the PML-N prime minister had not engaged the opposition parties minus PTI. As a result, all opposition parties have now joined hands and demanded his resignation.

At present, the PML-N and Sharifs have drawn the strategy for July 17, the date fixed by the Supreme Court for argument on the JIT report. Sharifs have decided to challenge the JIT. Now, will they get any relief or not, depends on the outcome of the proceedings after two sides complete their arguments.

The SC has already restricted the two parties to confine their arguments to the JIT report and something which had not been discussed earlier.

Sharifs and the PML-N will have little choice in case the decision comes against them. Then they will either go for fresh mandate, which would be very risky in this political atmosphere, or defuse the situation by nominating a consensus PML-N candidate for the PM slot.

While many believe that Shahbaz Sharif is the best choice as an alternative, Nawaz Sharif knows that if they want to win the next election, Shahbaz presence in Punjab is a must till the Senate elections in March 2018.

But the choice of a consensus candidate would not be easy because of political and personal differences between Chaudhry Nisar and Khwaja Asif, though Shahbaz Sharif's vote would be favour of the former. They also have problems within Punjab due to political and personal enmity between Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali. Hamza Shahbaz can become an automatic choice, in case something goes wrong against Shahbaz too, or the PML decides to bring him as the PM. Will Nawaz Sharif be comfortable with this scenario?

The growing uncertainty in the country has already brought the government and the federal capital to a standstill virtually. The stock exchange has shown negative impact and this trend may continue till the final decision of the SC, as the PML-N high command has decided that the PM will neither resign nor dissolve the National Assembly.

The PML-N has little time left to decide about the post-SC verdict. Under no circumstance, the PM could retain his position in case the court declares him disqualified.

It may not be very easy for Sharifs to keep the party intact if more than one Sharif faces political exit. But, as long as they are there and manage the party to survive till 2018, the PML-N still stands with a chance as the opposition including the PTI too is facing a problem with the electables.  

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharABbasGEO 

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