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January 23, 2020

PML-N’s stand on principal issues

National

January 23, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Despite his serious indisposition and the Supreme Court-imposed lifetime disqualification, deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s status as the ultimate decision-maker in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has remained undented.

The fact was reinforced by two recent far-reaching decisions that he took over the past few weeks, and the PML-N accepted them as the final words barring grumblings within closed-door deliberations by a very small minority.

However, at times the ‘honest messenger’ was lambasted by those PML-N leaders, who were displeased with the chief’s determination. Instead of directing their attack at the actual decision-maker, they tried to shoot the messenger, which gave rise to internal strife, maybe temporarily, but it turned out to be an exercise in futility as the original conclusion completely prevailed.

When the party’s advisory group especially flew to London for consultations with the PML-N supremo, Nawaz Sharif determined to afford unconditional support to the legislation aimed at giving three-year extension to Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the chief of the army staff. His verdict was subsequently implemented in letter and spirit. Even those who differed with it fell in line at the end of the day. While taking this decision, none from the PML-N bothered to hold even cursory consultations with the opposition parties.

The messenger - PML-N parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Khawaja M Asif – has to face acerbic reaction from certain party leaders including Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. But he was not at fault at all, as some believed, as he religiously conveyed what he has been told to ensure that the decision is enforced. For some time, a public environment emerged displaying that the PML-N is hit by severe conflict and discord. However, the storm subsided with the passage of time as everyone felt it was useless to cry over spilt milk.

The second major decision Nawaz Sharif took and communicated to senior PML-N leaders was that they should make sure that Sultan Sikandar Raja, son-in-law of Saeed Mehdi, the former principal secretary to the ex-premier, is picked up as the next Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).

However, he instructed his party colleagues not to first recommend to the government Sultan Sikandar’s name and let it come from the other side. It gave the impression as if the PML-N has the information that the aspirant’s name will be suggested by the government. The name actually originated from Prime Minister Imran Khan when he included it in his panel of three nominees. On his part, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif did not include Sultan Sikandar in his three-member panel in response to the premier’s letter.

Some PML-N leaders did express the view during private discussions with The News that as the Railways Secretary Sultan Sikandar has generated some cases for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take up against them. But despite such reservations, they bowed before Nawaz Sharif’s decision to back his candidacy in the parliamentary committee.

In the case of support for the important legislation and Sultan Sikandar, no PML-N leader quoted any message from the party chief, Shahbaz Sharif, and everyone cited the decisions made by Nawaz Sharif. It is natural that the PML-N president, who is also in London since his brother went there, has been engaged in consultations with him on key political issues.

Nawaz Sharif has been down because of his poor health and has been extremely battered, starting with his ouster by the Supreme Court in July 2018, leading to his imprisonment in the wake of his twice conviction by the accountability courts, but his influence and grip over the PML-N has not waned even slightly. The reason is that he is the solitary popular leader of the party who is the only incontestable vote getter and every other stalwart including Shahbaz Sharif looks towards him to keep the PML-N as the potent political force.

Despite the untold hardships that befell the former prime minister, his political power has not whittled down. Rather, it has been going up as the campaign to marginalize him has been persistent unabated. This is worrisome for those who have struggled hard to oust him from the political arena. Because of his lifetime disqualification, Nawaz Sharif can’t contest for any public office. However, this ineligibility has failed to halt him from effectively running the PML-N and presiding over its principal decision-making process.