Back at the helm

May 19, 2024

Nawaz Sharif is likely to reclaim PML-N presidency on May 28 as the party aims to revive support

Back at the helm


akistan Muslim League Nawaz leader Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, is likely to assume the party’s formal leadership on May 28. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has resigned from the position in a move seen as a bid to recharge the PML-N supporters who have appeared disgruntled before and after Election 2024.

If Nawaz Sharif accepts the party’s request and gives his consent to become its president on May 28 during the PML-N general council meeting held to celebrate Youm-i-Takbir – the day Pakistan carried out nuclear tests in 1998 – the PML-N will see Sharif in an official capacity after seven years.

Pro- and anti-PML-N political activists view the move from different perspectives. Some anti-PML-N elements have called it an outcome of intraparty differences between the camps led by Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. On the other hand, pro-PML-N activists say that Nawaz Sharif’s distance from the party’s activists has resulted in low morale in the party’s ranks.

They say that there are only two segments of voters, specifically in the Punjab: pro- and anti-Nawaz. Therefore, it is necessary for Nawaz Sharif to stay in direct contact with the voters to strengthen the party.

Popular leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Asif Zardari do not need any party office for themselves. Their parties need them because Pakistani voters and activists develop an emotional attachment to them. When these leaders are not active, voters lose interest in the party’s affairs. After the bitter experience of Nawaz Sharif being away from the voters, the PML-N has decided to urge Sharif to lead the party as president.

Nawaz Sharif is an elected MNA. He could have taken the prime minister’s office after the general elections. However, he nominated his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who also held the party’s presidential office, for the premiership because he did not feel comfortable in a coalition government dependent on several groups. He still managed to install his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, as the Punjab chief minister. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz are seen taking instructions from Nawaz Sharif regarding national and provincial affairs. Nawaz Sharif has also attended official meetings in the Punjab. Howeer, this has not been enough for many PML-N activists.

In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was in jail after General Musharraf’s coup against his government, the party had appointed the late Begum Kalsoom Nawaz as president of the PML-N. In 2002, when Nawaz and Shahbaz were in exile, and the party was struggling to consolidate its ranks before the elections, many PML-N leaders had joined the PML-Q.

Nawaz Sharif had then appointed Javed Hashmi as the party’s president. After Javed Hashmi was sentenced in a controversial treason case during Gen Musharraf’s rule, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held the office for a brief period.

Mian Nawaz Sharif regained the office after returning to Pakistan in 2008. However, in 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified him for the offices of prime minister and party president. He then nominated Shahbaz Sharif as party president while Shahid Khaqan Abbasi replaced him as prime minister.

Historically, under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership, the party has lost two elections - in 1993 and 2008. He has led the party to the federal government in 1990, 1997 and 2013. Whenever he has not been in the office, the party has not done well, in the elections of 2002 and 2018.

Popular leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Asif Zardari do not need any party office for themselves. Their parties need them because Pakistani voters and activists develop an emotional attachment to them. 

In the 2024 election, the PML-N did not even win a simple majority in the National Assembly. Although Nawaz had led the campaign after returning from the UK, he was not the party president. The transparency of the polls too has been questionable.

On April 26, PML-N Punjab president, Rana Sanaullah, addressed a press conference after a meeting of the provincial chapter’s leadership and urged Nawaz Sharif to reassume the party’s presidential office. He said, “A conspiracy was hatched to remove Nawaz Sharif from the offices of the prime minister and the party’s presidency.” He added, “We request Nawaz Sharif to reassume the party’s top position to guide the party in the right direction.” He emphasised that Nawaz Sharif’s narrative would set the tone for the party’s policy on reconciliation and resistance.

It may be recalled that close aides to Nawaz Sharif, such as Rana Sanaullah, Khwaja Saad Rafiq and Mian Javed Latif, who were vocal about the accountability of the judges and generals who allegedly conspired against Nawaz Sharif in 2017, did not win their seats. A group within the PML-N believes that their defeat was planned and managed as a punishment.

Sanaullah said that PML-N activists believed that under Nawaz Sharif’s presidency, the party would overcome its deficiencies and regain popularity.

On May 13, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif resigned as PML-N president and urged his elder brother to reassume the office.

In a letter addressed to the PML-N secretary general, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, the prime minister wrote, “I am writing to address a pivotal moment in the history of our party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and to reaffirm my unwavering commitment to its principles and values.

“Reflecting on the tumultuous events of 2017, which resulted in the unjust disqualification of our esteemed leader and quaid, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, from the prime minister’s office and the presidency of our party, I am reminded of the resilience and fortitude with which our party has faced adversity under his leadership.

“In the face of adversity, Quaid Muhammad Nawaz Sharif entrusted me with the responsibility of assuming the presidency of the party, a duty I have upheld with utmost dedication and sincerity.

“I am cognizant that this role has always been viewed as a trust, or amanaat, bestowed upon me by our revered leader. I am heartened by recent developments that have exonerated our leader with dignity, affirming his unblemished integrity and commitment to the service of our nation.

“In light of these developments and the steadfast guidance of our beloved leader, I believe the time has come for Mohammad Nawaz Sharif to resume his rightful place as the president of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and provide his invaluable leadership and vision to steer the party forward.”

The PML-N secretary general, Ahsan Iqbal, also announced his resignation from the party’s office in a chat with a private news channel, stating that he had asked the party to relieve him of the duties several years ago.

The party meeting was initially scheduled for May 18. However, the leadership later decided to let Nawaz Sharif announce his decision to reassume office on the occasion of Youm-i-Takbir, commemorating the nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif’s government on May 28.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. His X handle: @BukhariMubasher

Back at the helm