Why Nawaz League has left field wide open for IK’s PTI in Punjab
No political activity means giving a walkover to its arch-rival; PPP’s Asif Zardari may resurrect his party to fill the space
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There is a proverbial saying: “Governing Punjab is governing two-thirds of Pakistan”. It is so because of its population, area and resources. For nearly three decades, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has been dominating the political landscape of this vital province. Party leader Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister three times and each time his government was dismissed either by the verdict of a superior judiciary or a military dictator.
The PML-N held its ground in Punjab against all odds for well over 30 years as its vote bank did not betray its leadership. There has indeed been an element of dynastic politics since at one stage, the elder brother was the prime minister while his younger brother was the Chief Minister of Punjab. This situation was repeated recently when it was witnessed Shehbaz Sharif held the coveted position of Prime Minister while his son Hamza Shahbaz was appointed the Chief Minister of Punjab.
Thus, the PML leadership became a dynasty after Bhutto’s legacy. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the prime minister at a very crucial point in history after the fall of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh on the map of the world. After a long struggle against military dictator late Gen Ziaul Haq, Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto became the first-ever Muslim prime minister of a country with a population of over 200 million people. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sent to the gallows and Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while addressing a rally at the famous Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. A mutiny-like situation emerged as the news of her assassination spread like a jungle fire. It was Asif Zardari whose slogan ‘Pakistan Khappay’ saved the country from disintegration and as a result of his struggle, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) regained power once again with Asif Zardari holding the position of the president and Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani as the prime minister. The province of Sindh became PPP’s stronghold which it is maintaining to date.
The position of the PPP was established further when Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan decided to contest a bye-election in Karachi and was defeated by Pakistan People’s Party candidate Abdul Hakim Baloch with an impressive margin on the NA-237 Malir-II seat. Similarly, in Multan, the PPP candidate and son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Ali Musa Gilani was declared the winner by securing 10,7327 votes. While on the other hand, his opponent, the daughter of former foreign minister and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Meher Bano Qureshi could only obtain 82,141 votes.
But the position of PML-N in the July 17 bye-elections of 20 seats was pathetic. The PTI wins 15 of 20 constituencies in landslide victory while PML-N could win four seats, including one in Lahore. On the one hand, the PML-N bowed before the people's decision while on the other hand, the PTI thanked Punjab. Several lame excuses were put forth by the embarrassed PML-N leadership, one is the award of tickets to turncoats of PTI who shifted their loyalties to PML-N in the election of Hamza Shahbaz as the Punjab chief minister.
Now another leaf has been turned in the history of PML-N when under the instruction of party leader Nawaz Sharif, Premier Shehbaz Sharif elevated the status of Maryam Nawaz from the vice president to senior vice president with an initial responsibility of Chief Organiser of the party. This has generated a huge controversy among political pundits and social media handlers from both sides of the divide. This development is being termed as another worst example of dynastic politics. The critics are of the view that in presence of senior and dedicated leaders like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Kh Saad Rafiq, Kh Asif, Amir Muqaam and Ahsan Iqbal, Nawaz Sharif picked up his daughter to play the lead and vital role.
There is hardly any doubt that Maryam Nawaz is one of the party stalwarts who have the charisma and capacity to attract large crowds. She has proved it on various occasions. She along with her mother late Kulsoom Nawaz led the party very effectively under a military regime that had bent upon destroying the PML-N.
But at a time when Punjab was slipping out of hands, Maryam preferred to leave the country and joined her father in London on the pretext of undergoing a long-awaited surgery. This is a fact that during her stay in London, she has been part of many important meetings which took vital decisions like the return of Ishaq Dar and Salman Shehbaz.
Mian Javed Latif has been stating on various television talk shows that soon Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif would be returning to Pakistan and would lead the PML-N's election campaign for general elections to be held in August 2023. Nawaz Sharif’s return to the homeland is linked with a decision on a pending appeal in the Supreme Court against his conviction in Avenfield apartments as well as his disqualification in the Panama cases. He was disqualified for holding an iqama and having a receivable salary from his son. Some say that arrangements are being considered to provide Nawaz Sharif with a safe package to return home through the courts as was in the case of Ishaq Dar and Salman Shehbaz.
There is hardly any doubt that the PML-N is now facing the most serious challenge of its history for regaining its vote bank in its home province. There is no room for failure. Otherwise, the PTI which has been claiming to have snatched Punjab from the hands of the Nawaz League may make further inroads and cause further damage to the squeezing party. Maryam Nawaz needs to return and assume the re-organisation of the party before it is too late. She must prefer those leaders who not only remained loyal to the party but whose contribution has been visible in assigning important offices. She must hold intra-party elections allowing genuine workers to take up leadership roles.