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February 25, 2024

Nominated as PML-N candidate for Punjab CM, Maryam Nawaz promises a new era of governance

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Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief organiser Maryam Nawaz is all set to make history by becoming the first-ever woman chief minister of a province in Pakistan. Her party has clinched a clear majority in the Provincial Assembly. She has shown signs of the strengths needed to meet the challenges she will face as the administrative head of the province that has been the main source of her party’s power. Her performance will be constantly compared and set against the high standards of governance and administration set by her uncle, Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister.

Addressing a party gathering on February 21 at Jati Umrah, she acknowledged this challenge: “I know I have big shoes to fill.” She also vowed to start a “new era” in the Punjab. “I humbly say that today there is talk in the media that Maryam has been given the opportunity to become the first woman chief minister of the Punjab. It is an honour for the nominee… it is a great honour, I dedicate this to every mother, daughter, sister, child and all women members of the legislatures in Pakistan and the Punjab.“

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As a child, Maryam had never wished to be a politician. However, circumstances pushed her into the political arena. She saw her father, uncle, brother Hussain Nawaz and several party leaders being arrested and persecuted after Gen Musharraf’s coup. She witnessed her mother, late Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, out on the streets protesting for the release of Nawaz Sharif and other family members.

During the family’s years of exile in Saudi Arabia, Maryam focused on raising her children. It was a learning process. The ordeal also provided her a strong reason to step into politics.

Nawaz Sharif ended his exile in 2007 and returned to the country. He did not contest the 2008 election but remained relevant as a powerful politician, advising his brother Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab government and his party in the National Assembly. Maryam, too, stayed away from active politics.

In 2013, Maryam Nawaz was seen in party meetings before and after the elections. During those days, she also started interacting with the national and international media.

A PML-N source close to the Sharif family says: “Initially, Nawaz Sharif had wanted Hussain Nawaz to participate in politics but seeing his disinterest, he decided that Maryam should carry forward his political legacy and started mentoring her.”

In 2013, the government appointed her as the chairperson of the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, which she ran successfully. She is also credited with mobilising public opinion through social media before and after the 2013 election. After the 2024 election, she is again guiding her party’s social media team.

On February 21, she sat down with and listened to the newly-elected PML-N members of the Provincial Assembly. They discussed all kinds of issues. After the meeting, she spoke about her vision for the future. The promises she made about agriculture, education, health, youth affairs, sports and housing for the poor sounded realistic. However, law and order, environmental issues like smog, reforms in police and corruption were missing from her speech.

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While some critics cast doubts about her ability, she has already proven herself on various occasions. In her father’s absence from the country she was an effective leader. She displayed a remarkable power to galvanise and motivate her supporters. Because of this, she was reckoned amongst BBC’s 100 Women and The New York Times’ 11 Most Influential Women.

The biggest challenge for her might be the benchmark of performance and administration, set by Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. Her father was elected chief minister of the Punjab in 1985 and 1988. Her uncle had three terms as CM being elected in 1997, 2008 and 2013. Her uncle earned the reputation of a ‘ruthless administrator.’ The term ‘Shahbaz Speed’ was coined to acknowledge his commitment to completing large infrastructure projects, such as Metro Bus and Orange Train, in record time. She has to match if not surpass his performances. She has been receiving bureaucratic briefings since 2013 and is familiar with the challenge of tackling bureaucratic red tape.

Party sources say that for the last two weeks Nawaz Sharif has been focusing on governance. “He has been guiding his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N candidate for the premiership and Maryam Nawaz and having meetings with them.”

During his stints as CM, Shahbaz had faced weak oppositions and presided over strong treasury benches. A mammoth opposition in 2024 will be a constant problem for Maryam. She will need to be calm and not retaliate against the opposition’s aggression. She will need to both extend cooperation and elicit it from the opposition benches.

Some of Maryam’s weaknesses have been apparent at public appearances and news conferences. She appears to be directing party colleagues rather than inspiring them. Such an impression weakens the leadership quality. She has five or six deputies and managers, who function as her eyes and ears. The only senior leader she apparently listens to is Pervaiz Rashid. This attitude has resulted in other senior leaders remaining distant from her. The party she has to lead in the Punjab as the CM gained its strength when her father and other leaders undertook intense political activity, meeting and listening to the people in city streets and villages for over three decades. She will have to put in similar efforts and must develop direct connections with the masses and grassroots workers. This cannot be achieved by relying on reports from half a dozen political assistants.

Maryam received her preliminary education at the Convent of Jesus and Mary. She did her FSc from the Lahore College for Women in 1991. She was admitted in Fatima Jinnah Medical College in Lahore. However, she did not complete her medical education, dropping out after her marriage in 1992. Later, she received a master’s degree in English literature from the Punjab University.

Maryam is also a potential candidate for premiership. She will have to earn a reputation as a good chief minister before she is nominated for the prime minister’s office. This will require that she listen to party veterans, establish a direct link with the masses and brings about massive reforms in the Punjab. Those wishing for greater empowerment of women in Pakistan must wish her the best of luck.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. 

His X handle: @BukhariMubasher

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