In the current crises, the PML-N faces the most risks. It will have to make some tough decisions to regain lost political ground
arvez Elahi’s success in securing the vote of confidence and the subsequent dissolution of the Punjab Assembly despite efforts by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to thwart the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) plan has brought the League under immense pressure. It has to reclaim the Punjab, once its stronghold. Elections for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies are due in 90 days. The PML-N has to rethink its strategy on a war footing and make tough decisions in the coming days.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, too, faces a looming threat: President Arif Alvi can ask him to take a vote of confidence now that the PTI has announced its plan to return to the National Assembly. Sensing that Shahbaz Sharif may be in trouble if any of its his coalition allies do not vote for him, the National Assembly speaker has accepted the resignations of 35 PTI members of the National Assembly. However, the Punjab is now due for by-elections in about a dozen National Assembly constituencies besides the entire Punjab and KP legislatures. This will be a political contest even comparable to the general elections. Meanwhile, the ruling coalition is unable to provide any relief to the masses and has warned the people about tough economic decisions ahead. If the government does not announce any relief and the economic hardship grows, the PML-N will face serious political consequences.
This dilemma may compel the PML-N and its coalition partners to announce general elections ahead of the schedule, although some federal ministers have said that the government will complete its tenure. If the government holds elections for KP and Punjab Assemblies in 90 days and general elections in October 2023, the economy will have to bear an extra burden of Rs 20 billion.
The PML-N faces the most risks at the moment. Its supremo Nawaz Sharif is abroad and has been out of contact with his supporters for a long time. Maryam Nawaz, who can motivate PML-N’s disgruntled and inactive cadres, is also abroad. She intends to return by the end of January. Her party has recently appointed her the senior vice president. The Sharif brothers have given her the task to reorganise the party.
Hamza Shahbaz, the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, is in the US looking after his ailing mother, Nusrat Shahbaz. Earlier, he was in the UK for the treatment of his daughter. According to sources close to Hamza, he is not interested in politics at the moment and wants to focus on his mother’s and daughter’s health. In his absence, PM Sharif has called his younger son, Suleman Shahbaz, back. Suleman’s recent statement about Miftah Ismail, criticised by several PML-N leaders, has strengthened the impression that the PML-N leadership is still looking no further than the Sharif dynasty. The PML-N needs to dispel this impression and bring some non-family leaders to the fore.
Nawaz Sharif is said to be unhappy with the PTI’s success in the Punjab Assembly. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had remained in the Punjab to foil the PTI’s bid for a successful vote of confidence by Parvez Elahi but failed to stop it. He has since left for the UK to meet the elder Sharif. He may return with directions from the three-time former prime minister about the future strategy of the party.
The PML-N must give the party’s ownership to its loyalists and workers. It should appease leaders like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who remain popular and have made sacrifices for the party. Abbasi could have been used to motivate the masses in the absence of Nawaz and Maryam but has been kept aloof by certain elements in the party and the Sharif family. Federal Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique’s statement that he does not want to do anything in the present scenario, speaks volumes of the workers’ frustration. Plenty of other leaders think the same way but rarely speak openly.
Most of the top leaders of the PML-N currently are from the Sharif clan or are their relatives. It appears that the PML-N is functioning in the Punjab and Islamabad only. Motivating and empowering party in KP, Sindh and Balochistan should be a priority in the PML-N.
Maryam Nawaz must hold workers’ conventions and seek advice from the party’s supporters before framing a policy to reorganise the party. Her policies and actions must reflect the collective wisdom of the party workers.
Nawaz Sharif made the party strong by staying connected with the masses. Such contact is the key. The recent local government elections’ results from Sindh, especially Hyderabad and Karachi, should be a lesson for the PML-N. It is not connected with the people of Sindh any longer the way it once was.
The Sindh electoral results have also exposed the weakness of the polls and surveys about Imran Khan’s popularity and the prevalence of his narrative. Above all they have highlighted the importance of staying with the voters.
The PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had once told party leaders, “Politics is like a sport that needs good footwork. If you have good footwork and reach the voters, you will not lose them.” The key to success in constituency politics lies there.
The PML-N will have to take tough decisions. It must include non-Sharif leaders in key decision-making and appoint them to key party offices. It must revive its street activism on war footings. This alone can help the League regain its lost stronghold.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher