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April 10, 2018

PML-N weakest government in 32 years


April 10, 2018

The PML-N will surely complete its first full five-year term in office next month, but, will go into the next elections without its key leader and former premier Nawaz Sharif, who had been disqualified both, as PM and party’s president in his own government by the Supreme Court on July 28. This is by far the weakest PML government since its birth in post Gen Zia’s era in 1985.

Can PML-N retained its position of 2013 in 2018 elections and will NS be able to keep the party intact? Unlike in 1993 and 1999, party’s government and parliament is intact, but, apparently lost the leader and grip and control after July 28. Today, from PM to CM Punjab, some ministers, MNAs and MPAs, are not only under pressure but, few under probe as well.

The biggest challenge for the government and the party is how to rescue, ‘Sharif family’. Besides, former PM Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, son-in-law, Capt Safdar, two sons, Hasan and Hussain Nawaz, former finance minister, Ishaq Dar can face conviction, if proven guilty.

When Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court, on July 28, 2017, he had completed his four years in office, at least a year more than his previous two tenures in 1990-93 and 1997-99.

While on the previous two occasions Nawaz staged comebacks, now it seems it's ‘all over’ for him, but is it all over for the party too. Nawaz, who in the past had once been in prison under Gen Musharraf’s era for one year, before he along with family went into exile to Saudi Arabia, in 2000, never faced the kind of trouble they are confronting today, a complete exit from power politics.

During his four years in office he never looked in a comfortable position after his first year in power in 2013. Besides Sharifs mishandling, the PML-N government looked very weak on the political front as well particularly the way they lost Balochistan and elections of chairman and deputy chairman, Senate.

Though, not in big numbers as yet, defections in the PML-N, started appearing but, still majority had confidence in Sharifs. Defections were very much expected after July. Even otherwise, the PML-N had a track record of defections at crucial juncture. The major crisis which the party is likely to face would be after Nawaz Sharif’s verdict and during interim government.

Once in the 90s, majority in the Punjab Assembly had changed their loyalties. Sharifs themselves had revolted against the party leadership in 1988. What is interesting is the fact that most of them are joining their arch rival, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. It’s a test for the PTI and Imran Khan, whose party is still divided whether to accept all those from the PML-N and the PPP, who are joining at a fast pace.

In the past, PML, could not complete its full term even when Mohammad Khan Junejo was its President as well as PM in 1985, it again failed when Nawaz Sharif was PM and party President, in 1990 and 1997, but, on all three occasions parliament was also dissolved, which does not happened, this time. Survived unlike, it’s a dilemma that while party would complete its tenure, its three-time prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, remains most unlucky premier, who was unable to complete any of his three tenures in office.

Nawaz, still strong as a political reality and backbone of the party despite double blow to him since July 28, disqualification as PM as well as president of the party, fighting his last political battle to ensure the PML-N success in 2018 elections, irrespective of the outcome of the trial he, his daughter, two sons and son-in-law are facing along with former finance minister Ishaq Dar.

On Saturday, he presided an important meeting with top party aides including the PML-N president and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, over the future line of action in view of the challenges ahead, both to the party and the government.

With no hope for Nawaz to return to parliament even in the next general elections, the makeshift PM, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi finding extremely hard to run the government smoothly as he himself is under immense pressure in view of the sudden rise in the pace of inquiries against number of ministers, party MNAs, MPAs and he himself under probe in one of the cases.

Sources said, both Shahbaz and PM Abbasi already briefed Nawaz about the existing pressure, which is likely to increase in weeks to come. The PML-N leadership also discussed the post-interim government scenario and party strategy in case of Nawaz conviction.

The party top brass is also well aware of the challenges which the party can face in case Shahbaz too gets in trouble. The PML-N government has almost lost control in post-July 28, but, even under Nawaz it started losing control after the first year in the government, when the PTI’s ‘dharna’, started and ended only after former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif somehow rescued the situation. Nawaz himself had sought Gen Raheel’s intervention, which itself weakens his position as well as his government.

The PML-N somehow recovered from the loss in 2015, but, when as a result of the consequences of Karachi operation, Rangers and NAB, suddenly launched a crackdown on former president Asif Ali Zardari’s close aides, elder Sharif could not control the situation and as a result the PML-N relationship with the PPP became tense, which finally broke after Dr Asim Hussain and Anwar Majeed’s case.

Former premier also developed differences with the establishment in certain areas in dealing with foreign affairs including relationship with India, on Saudi-Yemen conflict and in dealing with Iran.

Thus, the year, 2015, was a mixture of success and failure as the PML-N won most of the by-elections and local bodies’ polls as well, but, could not captialise the power which the parliament had given to Nawaz Sharif during ‘dharna’. On the contrary, break-up of relationship with the PPP, proved quite costly for the PML-N and Nawaz.

Handling of post-Panama Leaks, on part of Sharifs and the PML-N speaks volumes of the weak government and strategy to handle the situation. Nawaz, in many ways remains unlucky not to complete even his full term like in 1990 and 1997. Worst happened in his last tenure as unlike in the last two terms when he and his governments were removed under Article 58-2(B), by the then president, late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, but, this time, chances of his returned almost, ‘sealed’.

Disqualified PM, who could face long prison in case found guilty in NAB case of ‘assets beyond means’, Nawaz, still confident that his party would win the next general elections even if he is in prison, because he believes that the people had rejected the verdict against him.

Despite his massive political moblisation due to which he succeeded in keeping the party intact, but, lost Balochistan, Senate chairman and deputy chairman elections. Government of makeshift PM is finding it hard to establish his writ.

Nawaz strongly felt and apprehended that after his disqualification and ouster as party head, the institutions like National Accountability Bureau could be used against party leaders in a bid to change their political loyalties as allegedly happened in Balochistan. Thus, his demand that NAB’s functioning should be stopped during interim government has lot to do with his apprehensions.

While on paper the PML-N is still ahead of the PTI in Punjab, despite all odds against Sharifs and the PML-N government. How, Imran will surprise Sharifs and others in Punjab, to get the magic figure of over 172 seats required to form the government would be interesting to watch.

The PTI will still find it hard and need dozens of ‘electables’ from the PML-N to cause upset for the PML-N. If reports of Ch Nisar second most senior party leader switched to the PTI, and few other senior members, problems can aggravate for Sharifs. Some dissenting voices within the PML-N expressed their concern over the ongoing situation.

A powerful federal minister and veteran PML-N leader while talking to this writer on phone admitted that there is lot for the party leadership to think if we really want to make a strong comeback. “All is not well and though in the past also such tactics had been adopted but we also need to accept our own mistakes and keep our own house in order,” he added.

Crisis within the party and government can deepen incase of any adverse decision against Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. “Let me admit that political parties including my own party hardly followed democratic principles particularly when they come into power”, he said on condition of anonymity.

“What happened in Balochistan or in the Senate with the PML-N could be the result of worst kind of horse trading, but, how many times our own leadership went to Quetta to talk to these dissidents. “We heavily relied on the man who was first the nawab and then the chief minister,” he added.

“We are trying to fight a war without knowing how to fight and lack the agitation workers to fight,” he further added. Only a ‘sympathy wave’ on the ‘polling day’ could upset Imran’s PTI. But, if the PML-N loses over 40 percent of its party strength to the PTI, it would not be surprising keeping the track record of Muslim League. If not, credit will be given to none other than Nawaz Sharif, despite its weakest government in 32 years.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO