Who will replace Imran Khan?
The PML-N has already declared that it would like the Imran Khan government to stay in power for five years so that people could see its failures on all fronts.
The PPP, the second-largest opposition party that has been in power in Sindh for the past 13 years, also believes in its hearts that the PTI government will complete its mandated term and stay in power till 2023. For its own interest, the party has no immediate plan to disturb the political landscape.
The opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement, of which both these parties were once major constituents, has already disintegrated because of their clash of interests and there is little possibility of them joining hands again from this platform.
Parties like JUI-F, PML-Q, ANP, MQM and BAP are smaller entities that can only add their voices to the major power contenders.
This means that the PTI government faces no immediate threat from its opponents and, with the backing of the military establishment, will like to serve out its constitutional term. No fresh elections are seen on the political horizon.
The only possibility of the elections being held before 2023 will arise only if the prime minister, using his constitutional powers, prematurely dissolves the National Assembly.
Despite this on-ground situation, political parties have started making claims/ speculations about the future political scene.
The PTI leaders, for example, claim that Imran Khan will get another term in office because of his government’s exemplary performance during the current stint. Those behind these claims are forgetting that in our country’s history no ruler got a second “consecutive” term.
The only leader who got a second term was Z.A Bhutto, who was overthrown within months because the opposition had launched a strong movement against him, alleging that he had rigged the elections.
Because of the opposition alliance, PNA’s bloody movement Gen Zia imposed martial law on July 5, 1977 and remained in power till he died in an air crash on Aug 17, 1988.
This manifests that, barring some miracle that changes the course of history, Imran Khan will be out of power as a result of the next elections whenever they are called.
After the PTI, the PML-N and the PPP will be the main contenders left in the field.
The question is which party stands a better chance of reaching the PM House and why?
As of now, the PML-N remains the biggest opposition party. Punjab, the country’s most populated province, is its stronghold and it also enjoys the support of traders, industrialists, businessmen and urban elites.
It has also support in some pockets in other provinces.
The party’s popularity is because of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the man who remained prime minister for three terms. At present, he stands disqualified for life for any elected office.
He is at war with the incumbent COAS and ISI director general for their alleged role in his ouster.
Will the establishment let this party return to power unless it normalizes ties with the former?
Apparently, there is little possibility of ‘normalization’ of ties as long as the cane of authority is with the present leadership. In fact, the gulf is so wide that it will take a long to bridge.
The establishment has strong reservations about Mr Sharif because he did not have good relations with any COAS he worked with during his tenures.
His daughter Maryam is equally defiant and a strong critic of the army.
This leaves Shehbaz Sharif in the field, a man known for his conciliatory attitude towards the establishment.
Will he be acceptable to the establishment as a replacement to Imran Khan? Can he sever his ties with his elder brother for the sake of power?
It can be said with certitude that Shehbaz will never like to part ways with his brother no matter how seductive the offer.
He knows that the PML-N is popular because of the former prime minister’s narrative. Shehbaz Sharif is completely dependent on his brother’s support and cannot win even a provincial assembly seat on the basis of his own popularity.
Secondly, being a man of conciliation Shehbaz doesn’t represent his elder brother’s anti-establishment narrative.
Still, he is being monitored by the powers-that-be for his suitability for any future political role.
In this complex situation, the PPP is the only other alternative to the PTI.
But the problem is that this party’s support base has shrunk to Sindh and doesn’t have much support at the country level. Its following in Punjab, the largest province that plays an important role in bringing some to power at the federal level, is negligible. Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will have to work very hard to win a following in Punjab.
In this scenario shaping the future setup will not be an easy task for the relevant quarters.