The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has decided to call early elections if the Supreme Court of Pakistan rules against the Sharifs in the Panama Leaks case. As the judgment is expected in April, there are rumours in the media that at least two major political parties will have to contest the next elections without their heads. They say Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and even Imran Khan could be disqualified to contest the 2018 election. Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari face corruption charges; Imran Khan is not acceptable to the international and national establishments. Rumour has it that differences in the ruling family have also sharpened and it is why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to call early elections in the wake of an adverse decision in the Panama case, instead of appointing someone from the family as a stop-gap arrangement for the interim period.
The prime minister, presiding over a meeting of the PML-N parliamentary party in Islamabad recently, was also concerned about differences among his cabinet members, especially Chaudhry Nisar, Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal. According to media reports, the party members rejected the idea of an “in-house change” in the event of an adverse court judgment and reposed complete confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The prime minister told his party members that former President and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf had offered him a secret deal before the 2008 elections, but he refused “because there can be no compromise on principles.” Apparently, he was trying to convince the party men that he should resign, call early elections and go to the public if the court ruled against him.
Earlier, media reports said that Prime Minister Sharif could step down and the ruling party would name his successor. Federal Ministers Nisar Ali Khan, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal were tipped to hold the slot. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was also said to be a possible choice, but he is a senator and not eligible to become the prime minister. However, participants in the parliamentary party meeting reposed complete trust in him and said, “There is no second-in-command in the PML-N,” which was a clear massage to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son, Hamza. The prime minister also asked the participants to launch an effective mass mobilisation and public interaction campaign to deal with political issues and also promised to provide huge development funds to them.
Until a few months ago, the PML-N looked comfortable to complete its five-year term. In the absence of an accountability system and its stranglehold on all state institutions, it hoped to win at least one more term. But the situation has changed now and the party is finding it difficult to even complete its remaining tenure. According to reports, Nawaz Sharif also seriously considered appointing Shahbaz Sharif his successor and Nisar Ali Khan the chief minister of the Punjab for the interim period. Before the onset of the Panama leaks, he was grooming his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, to replace him when his term expires in 2018. However, her chances of becoming the next prime minister have almost ended after she was named in the Panama leaks. She owns two offshore companies. It is the most worrying aspect for Nawaz Sharif. His two sons also own offshore companies and they are also not in politics.
There are also reports of differences between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif over their children. Bitterness between Hamza Shahbaz and Maryam Nawaz is talked about. It is believed that the hostility between Hamza and his cousin Maryam has divided the family. It is rumoured that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not willing to appoint Hamza as his successor as his daughter is bitterly against him. On the other hand, Shahbaz Sharif wants his son to become the next prime minister.
If the prime minister names Shahbaz Sharif his successor, it will shift all powers to the family of his younger brother. According to media reports, the party has been divided into three factions. Shahbaz Sharif, his wife Tehmina Durrani, son Hamza Shahbaz and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah lead their faction. Another group is led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, first lady Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif and State Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali. The third faction is controlled by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Their war started during sit-ins of the PTI and the PAT at D Chowk, Islamabad, when Nawaz Sharif asked Shahbaz Sharif to step down to save his government at the Centre. However, it is reported that Tehmina Durrani had convinced Hamza Shahbaz that if his father resigned, it would pave the way for Maryam Nawaz to enter into the corridors of power and his politics would suffer. After it, the chief minister refused to resign.
The Panama leaks allegations also divided the family. Only the prime minister, his children and ministers defended the charges initially, though without much success. Other family members remained silent. Tehmina Durrani, wife of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, shocked the people of Pakistan when she urged the family of her husband to return all foreign and local wealth to the nation. In a series of tweets on social media, she said that according to her point of view, keeping offshore accounts was an unethical act. “Doing something against the law is illegal while unethical acts are similar to selling your soul, the latter being a more grave offence,” she said and advised the Sharif family that the only way they could distance themselves from the allegations was to bring back the money saved in offshore accounts and foreign countries to Pakistan. She also advised the family to opt for a simpler way of life by returning the wealth to the nation and keeping Quaid-e-Azam as an example. Neither her husband nor his family reacted to the harsh criticism. However, some PML-N workers believed she had expressed her feelings with the consent of her husband.
If the court rules against Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif will also not remain unscathed. He is also an accused in the Huadaibiya paper mills case. It will also not be possible for him to lead the party to victory in the next election. Asif Zardari may face corruption charges, or his own party can ask him to step aside and give his son a free hand in politics. Imran Khan could also be disqualified by the courts or even by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The MQM has already abandoned its founder. It appears as if several all major political parties would go to the next polls without their leaders. It is said that the former president, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf could also play a crucial role in the future politics of the country.