From PML-Nawaz to PML-Nobody: Who’s calling the shots?

Source:  Tribune Published in Politics on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Ours is a great country. We love our politics as much as we love our curry with laal mirch masala (red chilli powder). Perhaps one of the primary reasons we are as emotional as we are is because of the laal mirch (read laal, hari, peeli mirch) in our food. It makes us exciting, passionate and restless. A little moderation in our masala intake might make us more tolerant and peaceful, and this definitely is the case for most of the nations of the subcontinent.

Seems like at this moment the greatest need for moderation is in Islamabad, where judicial activism is at its peak. Nawaz Sharif has now been disqualified from politics for life, along with Jahangir Tareen, by a judge who seems to be carrying out a vendetta against all corrupt politicians in our country. This is a momentous announcement for Pakistan, as such decisions were usually made in the past by our dictators and not our judges. Sometimes us laymen can no longer tell who is really running the country.

There is no doubt there were some serious issues highlighted by the Panama Papers, and they had to be acted upon. The decision to disqualify Nawaz from office over his dubious financial matters was also warranted. However, trying to bury the man over it seems rather uncalled for. The ‘rumoured’ crux of the matter is that if you ever encounter a smart and ambitious member of the judicial fraternity and they ask you for a posting in the higher courts, you give it to them, rather than face their wrath several years later.

If banning corrupt politicians is the new modus operandi adopted by our honourable courts, they certainly have a heavy long haul ahead of them. If one looks around keenly, it becomes quite apparent that no politician is suitable on the moral and financial qualifications laid out in Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan, yet they are all still there. Some of these “sadiq” and “ameen” (honest and truthful) politicians have even completed their five-year tenure in office and yet continue to be elected bari bari (repeatedly).

So what’s in store for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the future?

Currently, they have gone from PML-Nawaz to PML-Nobody, because of the life ban on their leader. However, making such a sweeping statement is both premature and immature. Everyone knows the only true head of PML-N will always be Nawaz, the same way everyone knows the only true head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) will always be Asif Ali Zardari, no matter how much Bilawal Bhutto Zardari  tries to weigh in on the decisions of the party.

Nawaz will now have to play kingmaker instead of ‘resident dictator’ within the PML-N. He will still be calling all the shots, but indirectly, through consultation and advice rather than direct orders. This new setup won’t be as much of a problem for Nawaz as it will be for someone else.

The actual problem will arise when the party decides on the successor to Nawaz. His apparent choice was his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, but this succession planning has now weakened. Maryam is also facing litigation and investigation in the ‘fontgate’ scandal, based on the papers she submitted to the courts in the Calibri font. If it’s proven to be a wilful and deliberate presentation of false documents, she could be banned next.

Her impending ouster would mean the obvious choice is Shehbaz Sharif, with his successor and son, Hamza Shehbaz, in the offing. If Hamza plays his cards right, he can easily oust Maryam and become the future of PML-N.

There is another issue which requires resolution before any of this comes to pass – the departure of party leaders. Eight PML-N parliamentarians have already resigned from the party on the premise of making South Punjab a separate province. Most commentators believe they may now go towards PML-N’s arch-rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The Sheerazis of Thatta are also waiting in line since the snub of their candidate for the position of Governor Sindh, and may move along soon as well.

From the echoes of a judicial coup, to the disintegration of the ruling party, everything under the sun can be seen at the moment.

Nonetheless, one fact remains constant. The former prime minister and now banned-for-life politician, along with his brother Shehbaz, are the primary reason why Punjab has prospered and has become the province it is today. The law and order situation within the province and the country at large has improved. Credit should be given where it is due.

However, a bulk of this prosperity has only been limited to the province of Punjab, which is the PML-N’s main political base. What’s a government if it doesn’t put all its weight behind its own electorate?

Whatever the pressures the party faces at the moment, there is a feeling the party will still hold its control over the local government within Punjab in the coming elections. Whether it retains its political majority in the next elections, however, remains to be seen.

Shar

Shar

The author holds an MPhil in Public Administration and has taught Politics and Public Policy at the University of Karachi.