LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has braved political highs and lows in 30 years of his political career and seems well-equipped to take the PML-N reigns after Nawaz Sharif.
Shahbaz made his electoral debut in the 1988 general elections and contested as the candidate of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) from the then PP-122 and emerged victorious against PPP’s Pir Syed Nazim Hussain Shah with a lead of around 4,000 votes.
In that contest, Shahbaz won the poll by securing 22372 votes followed by PPP’s Nazim Hussain Shah who got 18100 votes. His elder brother Nawaz Sharif also won from the corresponding provincial seat which was PP-123 and the NA-95 seat.
In 1988, Shahbaz also played a key role in lobbying for his elder brother, who was the candidate of the IJI for the slot of chief minister. The PPP in that poll had already won enough seats to form government in centre and in Punjab as well, having won 95 seats in the House of 240; it needed support of the independent members who, however, extended their support to the IJI amid severe allegations of horse-trading by the PPP.
Shahbaz contested the first National Assembly election in 1990 when he was pitched by the IJI from Lahore’s Walled City, an area which used be a strong hub of the PPP till 1988 polls. In 1988, the PPP had won all the three seats, including the then NA-96 and provincial slots of PP-124 and PP-125 from where Jehangir Badr and Yusuf Salahuddin emerged winners.
In 1990, Shahbaz contested from the then NA-96 from where he defeated PPP’s Jehangir Badr with a margin of around 13000 votes. Shahbaz got 54506 votes whereas the runner-up bagged 41902 votes. He also won the provincial seat PP-124 as the IJI candidate defeating PPP’s Malik Abdul Ahad.
Shahbaz in the PP-124 contest got 26408 votes and the runner- up Malik Ahad got 14768 votes. Shahbaz vacated the provincial assembly seat and took oath as MNA for the first time in 1990.
Real test of Shahbaz began after the 1993 general elections when he had to play the role of an opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly. After the founding of the PML-N by Nawaz Sharif in 1993, the party contested the general elections for the first time on the symbol of tiger.
In those polls, Shahbaz was once again fielded by the PML-N from Walled City and he won both NA and the PP seats quite comfortably. From NA-96, Shahbaz emerged victorious by defeating PPP’s Mian Yusuf Salahuddin, the grandson of Allama Iqbal, with a margin of around 18000 votes.
Shahbaz got 55867 votes and Yusuf Salahuddin, the runner-up got 37858 votes. Jamaat-e-Islami, which contested the polls under the banner of Pakistan Islamic Front, had fielded Ijaz Chaudhry, the son-in-law of former JI Ameer Mian Tufail, who could get 1321 votes.
Shahbaz this time vacated the National Assembly seat from where the PML-N accommodated Javed Hashmi, who had suffered defeat at the hands of Shah Mehmood Qureshi from the then NA-120, Multan-Khanewal seat.
PPP and PML-J led by Hamid Nasir Chattha, formed coalition government in Punjab and Manzoor Wattoo became the chief minister. Shahbaz led a strong opposition comprising noted political figures like Ch Pervaiz Elahi, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, Inamullah Niazi, Syed Tabish Alwari, Mian Fazal Haq, Akhtar Rasool, Binyamin Rizvi and around 70 more. The period between 1993 and 1996 was marked with severe political turmoil and crisis on Sharif family which alleged the PPP government of carrying out its victimisation. The members of Sharif family including Mian Muhammad Sharif, father of Nawaz and Shahbaz, also faced arrest on different charges. The PML-N also gave call of Tehreek-e-Nijat against the PPP government which was led by Benazir Bhutto and Lahore also gave a civil war-like look on different occasions when clashes between police and protesters were witnessed.
The PML-N stalwart Javed Ashraf, who was also the campaign in charge of Shahbaz from NA-96, was also killed in clash with Punjab police. Shahbaz remained an active figure while leading the opposition in and outside the Punjab Assembly and finally in 1996, Farooq Leghari, the then president dismissed Benazir Bhutto’s government while exercising Article 58-2b. The PPP moved court against the decision but its plea was rejected and fresh polls were called which were held on February 3, 1997. Shahbaz once again fielded himself from the Walled City.
From NA-96, the would-be chief minister of Punjab defeated a former CM, Hanif Ramay, who contested on the PPP ticket. In the polls, Shahbaz won the NA seat while bagging 47614 votes followed by Hanif Ramay, who got around 10410 votes. From the provincial slot, Shahbaz emerged victorious over Mazhar Iqbal Bhalli Butt while getting 25013 votes. Bhalli Butt, the PPP candidate got around 6200 votes.
For the first time in the history, the PML-N emerged as a party with a clear-cut two third majority in the House besides sweeping polls in Punjab and with this, started a new role of Shahbaz Sharif. Initially, the name of Pervaiz Elahi was doing the rounds as the would-be chief minister but much to his surprise and for the rest of the party Shahbaz was nominated as next chief minister by the party. Shahbaz took oath as Punjab chief minister for the first time in 1997 and within nine years of his career in politics, he became the most powerful man of the province.
This decision did raise eyebrows in the party camp but Pervaiz Elahi, the key aspirant for the slot of CM was nominated as Punjab Assembly speaker. Shahbaz held this office till October 12, 1999 when Pervez Musharraf, the then army chief toppled the government of Nawaz Sharif and imposed emergency in the country.
Following the October 12, 1999 episode, Shahbaz along with other members of the Sharif family was arrested and tried by the military court.
During that period when the former premier and his brother, a former CM were in captivity, the party was led by Kulsoom Nawaz, who launched struggle against Musharraf regime till the entire Sharif family, as a result of a deal with Musharraf preferred to go in exile.
While Sharifs were abroad, Javed Hashmi was appointed as the acting head of the PML-N and due to legal bindings, Nawaz couldn’t hold the office of party president, Shahbaz served as the head of the party in that phase.
This is noteworthy that at the time when entire Sharif family, and even its relatives like Sohail Zia Butt preferred to remain in exile, both the sons of Shahbaz including Hamza and Salman remained in Pakistan. Hamza continued to look after the party affairs on the behalf of his father and uncle whereas Javed Hashmi was serving as the acting president.
In 2002 general elections which were held in the absence of Sharifs in the country, the PML-N underwent a testing phase as in the polls held in October 2002, it reduced to only 16 NA seats and around 50 seats in the Punjab Assembly. The persecution of its members at the hands of Punjab police became a common sight in and outside the Punjab Assembly whereas the massive desertion of its members to the PML-Q fold also multiplied the challenges for the party leadership abroad. Shahbaz, who was then the president of the PML-N made a daring attempt to return to country in May 2004 at a time when Pakistan was under the rule of a military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
With Shahbaz announcement to return, police started a massive crackdown on the PML-N workers and ARD activists.
However, Shahbaz was deported within hours after his plane landed at the Lahore Airport and the government claimed that under a deal, the family couldn’t return before 10 years. The later years to come were also very critical for the PML-N. In the 2005 local government polls, the party couldn’t win a single district nazim slot besides facing splits in its ranks.
In 2006, the PPP and the PML-N signed the historic document named ‘Charter of Democracy’ with a pledge to support democracy and not to become part to any undemocratic move in future.
In September 2007, former premier Nawaz Sharif made an attempt to return to Pakistan but was deported within one month, the party leadership announced to return again and Shahbaz along with his elder brother Nawaz, younger brother Abbas and other members of the family reached Pakistan in November 2007.
The return of Sharifs to country gave a new lease of life to the PML-N and it won back its lost strength in February 2008 polls while winning major chunk of seats and forming government in the province in coalition with the PPP. The PML-Q, once known as the King’s Party stood at number three with 84 seats in the Punjab Assembly but it also underwent similar situation faced by the PML-N and with the formation of a forward bloc in it, its strength reduced to only 30.
Due to the rejection of his nomination papers, both Sharifs couldn’t contest the 2008 general elections but Shahbaz, while receiving a go ahead from the court returned to the PA after 11 years getting elected unopposed from three seats. He took oath as chief minister but once again had to undergo a test when on the petition of Shahid Orakzai, he was de-seated and governor’s rule was imposed in Punjab.
Shahbaz took to street after the imposition of governor’s rule and hostility between the PPP and the PML-N, two signatories of CoD seemed at the highest level and following a long march in the name of restoration of judges, the PML-N not only succeeded in restoring the deposed judges but also got its government back as a result of court’s order in March 2009.
Shahbaz completed his term as chief minister and in the 2013 elections, he was fielded from NA-129 and PP-159, won both seats and retained the provincial seat.
He was once again elected as the Punjab chief minister, and became the first person to get elected for the office for third term and now with the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has also been barred from holding the office of party president, Shahbaz is also being dubbed as the new party head.
It is noteworthy that late Mian Sharif, father of Nawaz and Shahbaz as head of the family has also been a major binding force of the family. In 2000, sources stated when the family was undergoing a phase of severe turmoil; it was Mian Sharif who convinced Shahbaz to go abroad along with his brother rather than staying in the country.
Later, after the death of Mian Sharif, mother of Nawaz and Shahbaz, also played a key role in keeping the family united and both the brothers give weight to the decisions taken by their mother, family sources said.
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