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November 9, 2015

Follies of rivals help PML-N consolidate its rule

National

November 9, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Follies and lack of capacity of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s rivals to maintain pressure and popularity and the performance of his government have resulted in solidifying and strengthening him while he was extremely nervous, panicky and even scared precisely a year ago.
There are indeed a number of gaps and deficiencies in the functioning and working of the government particularly absence of major reforms in different sectors, but these shortcomings have not been sufficiently hammered by the opposition to get political mileage and take on the administration.
A recent tweet by someone, who is not a fan or supporter of the prime minister, perhaps aptly summed up the situation in these words: Nawaz Sharif is quite like Misbahul Haq; quietly and slowly delivering when everybody else thinks he’s gone to sleep.
Various developments have led to the reinforcement of the government. It is now back to the pre-August 2014 position, rather better entrenched, exuding immense confidence, when a powerful assault was launched as per the script of the conspiracy author to wrap up the democratic dispensation.
One, the outcome of the first phase local council elections especially in Punjab has given the government an unparalleled shot in the arm, leaving his rivals far behind, licking their wounds. The impressive results were not even, in the words of a diehard Leaguer, in the ‘wildest dreams’ of the ruling party. They threw up the position of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the majority province as unassailable.
If the ruling party succeeds in clinching the same or close to the results in the second and third stages of local polls on November 19 and December 5 that it secured in the inaugural phase, it would be unstoppable as its tight grip on the local councils would pay tremendous dividends in the next parliamentary elections. In the eighties and nineties, it used to enjoy the luxury of the backing of these councilors.
Two, the

PML-N’s consecutive victories and successive defeats of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in several by-elections including the most important contest for NA-122 Lahore, held after the 2013 polls, gave an immense boost to the PML-N and waned the fortunes of its rivals. Hue and cry by some competitors apart, there is a universal consensus that these by-polls were unprecedentedly fair, free and transparent.
Three, the main challenger of the PML-N, the PTI, which has made Nawaz Sharif pass several sleepless nights particularly after its menacing long march and sit-in or siege of the federal government, has not been able to sustain its position. Apart from the rout in the by-elections, the first phase of local polls has pushed it in deep demoralization.
The Imran Khan-Reham Khan divorce served the PTI in no way. The announcement of the breakup a day before the polling for the first phase of local polls negatively impacted the party. Besides, the PTI has been faced with grave internal strife and bickering, which is seriously hurting it. Elevation of Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar as the in-charge of the entire local election show in Punjab left some other senior party leaders with sullen faces and go slow in canvassing across the province. The PTI’s absolute political isolation became further pronounced as no parliamentary party is willing to support its candidate for the office of the speaker while conversely the PML-N’s nominee is earning the votes of all and sundry.
Four, the civil-military relations have been good since the two Sharifs took over. In-between, some circles forcefully tried to paint an impression that all is not well. But this campaign ended after the recent high-level promotions in the Pakistan army. The elements that have been attempting to drive a wedge between the premier and the army chief have now apparently slowed down their efforts, which shows that the khaki-mufti amity has further improved. Undeniably, such relations are required to be smooth and tension-free in Pakistan’s milieu to avoid any instability.
Nawaz Sharif has reconciled to the fact that he will do everything possible to keep any conflict with the establishment away.
There are many instances to back up this reality. One pertinent example emerged when the prime minister delayed his departure for Washington by a day, waiting for the return of the ISI chief from the United States to get briefing from him about his discussions in America.
The purpose was to take the same stand during his meetings with President Obama and others in Washington. The government’s adversaries have been upset over this state of affair.
Five, before Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit, a campaign was built pertinently in the US media as he is going for a ‘sell-out’ on the missile programme. Such discussion also got currency in Pakistan by those who wanted to mar the trip. Finally, nothing of this kind happened and the visit went well.
Six, despite usual grumblings and pulls and pressures from different sides the PML-N has remained a unified force under Nawaz Sharif’s tutelage. At times, the infighting among different ministers hit headlines, but it hardly inflicted any great damage to the party. As per his temperament and style, the prime minister allowed the clash to go on to a certain level and then did the firefighting, calming down the combatants.
Seven, if asked a few months ago many people would not believe the government would complete its five-year term till 2018, but now there is no talk even by its opponents that the next elections would be held before the expiration of its tenure. This has enhanced the prime minister’s confidence. However, his biggest challenge now is to deliver, and if he lives up to his commitment of overcoming the power shortage by end-2017, he can go to the next parliamentary polls with awesome self-assurance. Over-confidence need not to go to the PML-N’s head, making it too much stiff-necked and aggressive.