PML-N, Pakistan, Avenfield Reference, Elections

Obdurate sentencing of Nawaz Sharif and his ostensible political successor Maryam Nawaz has opened a new Pandora’s box for PML-N, which is already embroiled in answering tough questions pertaining to elections due in fewer than three weeks.

Nonetheless, this marginal advantage is under dark clouds if campaigning is left to the younger Sharif who may be an apt administrator able to deliver projects on time with appropriate budgets, but lacks the charismatic traction that is needed by a leader to transform the course of movements.

The verdict, which has already been questioned by many can be termed as a conviction that is without conviction. It will most definitely be challenged in a high court seeking bail, while their appeals are being heard. However, in the case of the father-daughter duo being denied bail, the onus of the election campaign would then depend on Shahbaz Sharif, though it would mean nothing less than a handicap for PML-N as it has drawn legitimacy largely on the appeal of the father and daughter. After the disqualification of the elder Sharif, party reins are invested in the hand of the younger Sharif, who not only is the incumbent party leader but the prime ministerial candidate of PML-N. Subsequently, the younger Sharif is busy campaigning on the basis of his performance as Chief Executive of the country’s most populous province, Punjab. Nonetheless there remains a unanimous agreement among the political commentators regarding the mass appeal of Nawaz’s narrative of asserting civilian supremacy that is swaying the masses and gaining traction among the support base, rather than being the other way round.

Recent opinion polls (according to Dawn) reveal that the PML-N enjoys a marginal advantage over the PTI compared to the wide gap that existed between them in previous years. Nonetheless, this marginal advantage is under dark clouds if campaigning is left to the younger Sharif who may be an apt administrator able to deliver projects on time with appropriate budgets, but lacks the charismatic traction that is needed by a leader to transform the course of movements. This notion is further strengthened by the younger Sharif’s timid take on the announcement of the court verdict. He rejected the decision and made the perfunctory statement calling it politically motivated. This insipid performance from Shahbaz Sharif has all but deflated the morale in the party ranks, failing to provide any inspiration what so ever. Conversely, this balanced demeanor is understandable as it is to forgo the wrath of powerful state institutions, however, what it will not achieve is the overwhelming support and mobilization of voters; the surge that is the need of the hour for PML-N. At this crucial juncture, workers will take a lead from the attitude and demeanor of the PML-N President who himself sounded downbeat. The only way forward for PML-N to turn this situation on its head is to hit where it hurts the most, and that is only possible by mobilizing its political base and carrying the momentum forward till election date.

Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz’s calling out of the establishment as the architect of the present political landscape and labeling them as chief tormentors is something that past popular leaders thrived upon; the likes of Benazeir Bhutto or her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The coming weeks will give us further clear indications as to whether or not the PML-N is suited to popular politics or not.

To complete the picture, it is imperative to mention PTI and its Chief Imran Khan who single-handedly led the fight to have the matter discussed one way or the other. Nawaz, owing to his majority in parliament, faltered at the hands of his over confidence as he paid no heed to the solution offered by the opposition leader Khurshid Shah who suggested the formation of a parliamentary committee to probe the scandal. Once the proposal was blatantly rejected by Nawaz Sharif, after initial resistance shown by the Supreme Court, the matter was taken up with absolutely no certainty where it would lead us all.

Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz’s calling out of the establishment as the architect of the present political landscape and labeling them as chief tormentors is something that past popular leaders thrived upon; the likes of Benazeir Bhutto or her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Subsequently, disqualification by the Supreme Court and now this judgment by the accountability court have led many to believe that the road has increasingly shrunk for Nawaz Sharif. However, it is imperative to note that even at this point it is Nawaz Sharif himself who holds all the keys for his future, irrespective of whether or not the media is sympathetic to him. Moreover, the events that unfolded during the day while arresting Captain (Retd.) Safdar provides enough evidence that even in prison if Nawaz Sharif is able to inspire, galvanize and retain crucial support from his political base, he would continue not only being relevant politically but can also gain strategic advantage against his adversaries through his populous narrative.

Ammar Alam

is a graduate of School of Economics, Quaid-i- Azam University Islamabad. His area of expertise include the Middle East, European Affairs and political economy. Currently, he is working as an Operations Associate at CSCR.

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