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August 22, 2017

View from the Gallery: PML-N backbenchers wary of Nawaz revolt

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August 22, 2017

While the National Assembly debates the electoral reforms bill, some curious and informed treasury back benchers are consistently engaged in discussing political consequences of the ongoing semi-revolt of sorts by the deposed Premier, Nawaz Sharif. All of them know for sure they face a worst case scenario of loosing majority in 2018 elections in case the gamble of taking “political rhetoric” to the next level fizzles out, and the powerful institutions don’t offer an olive branch. But they stand a good chance of sailing through the pre and post 2018 testing elections scenario in case necessary “give and take” is opted for.

For now, Sharif is tucked in at the Jati Umra estate of his, minutely stock taking the stark political choices-realities, and arsenal left at his disposal. He is a bit down option-wise, cornered legally, but not out, politically. The G.T. Road show has given him emotional strength to fight back even when political foes paint a bleak picture for days and weeks to come. Still, Sharif calls the shots at the centre where the government and new premier are his handpicked, and work at his whims. He is, and has throughout been, a system insider for almost four decades now. In between, lady luck kept on smiling at him intermittently even when he lost two of his governments – one by a powerful president (Ghulam Ishaq Khan) armed with powers to dismiss elected government and assembly in 1993, other through coup d’état by a military general (Pervez Musharraf) in 1999.

Those days and weeks that followed marked the worst days of Sharifs’ political and personal life. Eventually, the 10 years exile to Saudi Arabia -- reduced to appx seven years through a miraculous yet well backed-up come back in December 2007. Leading a lawyers’ movement in 2009 to restore the judiciary raised his political stature to a new height, especially in absence of PPP chairperson who had perished two years earlier. And eventually an unthinkable return to the top seat in the capital through 2013 elections. It happened so just like Zardari’s ascendency to Presidency in September 2008 could not block, Sharif’s rise to premiership for third term was unstoppable too. He had the majority, after all. And nobody, even his worst haters in the establishment, could stop him from becoming a third time premier.

It necessitated a PTI-PAT 2014 sit-in for some many days and weeks. And then the Panama political theatre.  Now Sharif, in his post disqualification in Panama case, and after tit for tat G.T. Road march, has risen stakes of the political game to such an extent that he risks a back lash from the ‘real establishment’. But Sharif is a unique figure, rising from the same system, but over the years agitating and revolting against the usual civil-military elite having firm grip on the power corridors. He has a mix bag of sorts track record. And again takes center stage of the political discussions – good or bad. Political foes – Imran, Zardari or even Sheikh Rashid and company – having ruled him out for good on the Panama case verdict day, are again discussing him day in and day out. Some wish he should be behind bars. Others fear it would raise his political stature more as his voters and supporters don’t tend to buy corruption charges leveled at him. He may gain more popularity behind bars, is the worst nightmare of the fear camp.

So all this props up discussions among masses fuelled by rating hungry media in prime time shows, and the uncontrollable social media streams as well.  And all this naturally makes its way into the Parliament. People may criticize the legislature for not doing enough for public good or for that matter in terms of legislation, but in fact the public representatives do know the public pulse, first hand.   Hence the informal discussions are continuing at the back benches, even in secrecy among ministers at the front rows, lobbies and chambers too. Where would such an adventure lead the ruling party, they ask?

In absence of any near future give and take with the ‘real establishment’ what would be the elections prospects of leader Nawaz Sharif led party? What is Shahbaz Sharif upto? Where would Ch Nisar Ali Khan’s calculated interventions lead? Will the Shahbaz-Nisar duo be given the task to carve out yet another deal that would give space to the ruling party in pre and post 2018 elections scenario?  And finally what will be the future of Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi led government? And so on. The questions are unending; answers are hard to come by. At least for now as the situation unfolds. Even the front row ministers enjoying top ministries in the Abbasi dispensation don’t feel that powerful in absence of assurances from the real powers. It’s a psychological uncertainty that looms large.

One could see Ch Nisar turning up at the front treasury rows on Monday too, engaged in pep talk with colleagues nearby, and those occasional back benchers who still come by to pay regards. Staying putand close-lipped for all practical purposes, Nisar knows the under currents and has his side of calculations of the uncertain times to come. But won’t be able to offer much till his counsel is given due weightage by the elder Sharif. Till then, it is business as usual as the National Assembly debates the elections reforms bill. The major question for the moment. Will the bill be adopted through majority or a consensus among the major stake holders – PML-N, PTI, PPP? If a consensus is not reached, it puts the whole thing into a tailspin.

Tail peace: The opposition losses a major war of nerves against Sharif family’s NA-120 bid to get elect Begum Kulsum Nawaz in September elections after an appellate tribunal rejects their objections to her candidature. The list of 25 objections seemed a mere effort to strike some headlines in media. Nothing more.  Divided, PTI, PPP and PAT stand a small but outside chance to defeat Begum Kulsum on a seat PML-N has never lost. Feeling heat of the situation, all of them have approached the Election Commission to complain why the deposed premier is chairing important party meetings even when he has been removed from party office. The funny side of the argument – they want the “PML-N” minus the “N” (Nawaz) letter too. As if the word “N” is out of bound, banned, declared a political outlaw. Nothing of the sort. We should not get carried away. Politics doesn’t need to be disciplined, ragamentized to this extent. Let the people breathe.

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