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August 9, 2018

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Imran Khan vs Shahbaz Sharif

While confusion still persist over the delay in convening the first session of the newly-elected National Assembly, the PTI and joint opposition have nominated their candidates for the premiership, Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif, respectively, the two most prominent and leading political figures in the country.

While electoral college yet to be completed, which may take few more days, everyone knows who will be the next prime minister, but Shahbaz or the PML-N decision to put SS itself is a bold decision as normally in such a situation party nominates less prominent party leader. This is a positive move on part of the PML-N, whose role would now be to act as strong opposition along with over 120 MNAs, and majority in the Senate.

So, the very decision of the PML-N and backed by other opposition parties clearly showed the mood in the opposition camp. Sources said Shahbaz took the decision in consultation with his jailed brother Nawaz Sharif.

This will be the first real test for the PML-N and Shahbaz as the real opposition leader challenging the man who had defeated Sharifs in their home-ground Punjab, but with some disappointment of not getting comfortable majority and would be relying on coalition partners.

Imran-Shahbaz contest and future politics of the PTI and the PML-N will keep the assemblies alive both at the Centre and in Punjab. This competition will put both of them on their toes as both have the reputation of aggressive style when it comes to deliver. Imran, who is known for accepting challenges both in cricket and politics is delaying in forming his teams in Centre, Punjab and KP because he knows that Shahbaz can be a good challenger particularly in Punjab.

Imran also knows that he need to pick the right and strong team for Punjab, and he himself would personally look after the big province. His team in Punjab has to perform much better than Shahbaz Sharif, if he really wants to retain the decisive province in future.

Imran also knows that people of Punjab will judge the PTI performance and development work with that of Shahbaz and the PML-N. The PTI leader is also well aware of the Punjab’s number game and irrespective of the PML-N defeat in NA, the fact remains that it had emerged as single largest party in Punjab, which reflects performance of Shahbaz.

Some leaders close to Shahbaz believe that had there not been confusion within the PML-N over party narrative and they contested polls on Punjab’s development, results could have been much better in favour of the party.

Shahbaz also know Imran’s capability and ‘Janoon’. Now whether Imran will go on vulnerable development policy of Sharifs or sustainable development policy will be clear in the next few months.

It will also be interesting to see whether Imran would retain the policy of making more Motorways, Metro, Orange train or bring something new. In KP, he did not abandon Motorway and his KP government also launched Metro bus project. Imran had not dismissed the need for these projects but he may try to bring more transparency in it.

Imran may delay his plan to abandon MNAs and MPAs ‘development funds’ till the next local bodies elections and unless he bring changes in the local government system. Another reason was the pressure from his allies and MNAs, MPAs, something which the PML-N and opposition could exploit. Shahbaz also knows that Imran is no stranger to Punjab and also enjoys good reputation among the masses.

But as prime minister, pressure will be on Imran and not on Shahbaz. Shahbaz also has confident in his son Hamza’s capabilities as in the last 10 years he too earned the position of de facto leader of Punjab since long.

Imran’s challenge will be to provide clean government free from any financial or other scandal and set the target for major reforms in Punjab. It will also be interesting to watch the response Imran and the PTI will get on making South Punjab, a separate province and more administrative units in the country.

If the PTI succeeded in making South Punjab, a new province, Imran would also win over support from the vast majority of liberal and secular forces which have been making demand for Seraiki province since long.

Sharifs and the PML-N or even the PPP dilemma would be whether to support or try to defer the matter. Politically, they can’t oppose any such legislation as it had been their demand and promise as well.

However, opposition intentions are quite clear too, and Imran-Shahbaz rivalry may not end after premier’s election. It would rather be the beginning of a new era of both the PTI government and the PML-N-led opposition. So irrespective of the outcome of the result, the new assembly would not be as dull as the previous one and we may see lot of ‘fireworks’.

Another interesting aspect would be MNA-elect Imran taking oath from MNA-elect and outgoing speaker Ayaz Sadiq. In 2013, Imran had refused taking oath from the same speaker over the allegations of rigging.

This will be followed by the election of the speaker and deputy speaker through secret ballot. This will determine Imran’s real strength in 2018 National Assembly. This will also clear the position of the opposition. Imran at present is leading majority party with 116 seats on the election day but today the strength of his party and allies comprising PML- Q, BAP, MQM, GDA, Independents and other smaller groups has crossed the figure of simple majority and is now 177.

On the other hand, Shahbaz will be leading the opposition of over 120 MNAs, comprising PML-N, PPP, MMA, JUI-F, ANP and others.

One thing is certain that Imran Khan and his party can’t afford absence from the Parliament, something which opposition would be looking for. All in all it would be a good competition of ruling and opposition parties as both prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan and opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif are quite capable in their own right.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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