Back-to-back defeats of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in Azad Kashmir elections and Sialkot by-polls have laid bare its internal differences. There were also rumours of the resignation of PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif over the narrative of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz. Senior party leaders are expressing reservations about each other in talk shows. The situation is ideal for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, though it also faces infighting.
The infighting in the PML-N has divided it between two groups, one siding with Shehbaz Sharif and the other backing Nawaz Sharif and his daughter. In fact, the difference of opinion existed between them long ago but it has sharpened now. Shehbaz Sharif is known for his reconciliation policy towards national institutions while Nawaz Sharif and his daughter target them. The narratives look different but their prime aim is the same. They want maximum relief for themselves and each other. However, the “contrasting narratives” have failed to bring them much relief. Shehbaz Sharif faces serious cases of corruption and money laundering, though he has been released on bail. His release on bail triggered rumours of his narrative working but it fizzled out when he was not allowed to leave the country, though he made a serious attempt to flee overnight.
It is clear that Nawaz Sharif and his group in Pakistan, led by Maryam Nawaz, want to move forward with its narrative, to attack national institutions to get maximum relief in corruption and money laundering cases. On the other hand, the Shehbaz Sharif faction aims at reconciliation and dialogue, and focuses on winning the 2023 general elections. Some analysts fear the party may disintegrate if Nawaz Sharif continues his narrative. Sources in the party told a news channel that senior leaders want Nawaz Sharif to give a free hand to Shehbaz to hold dialogue with institutions. There are also differences in the two groups over the return of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) fold. It is said Shehbaz Sharif is annoyed at the rigid stance adopted by Maryam Nawaz and former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi over the issue. It is believed that Shehbaz Sharif wanted to go to London to convince his elder brother to take a final decision as to who will lead the party, who would be the next prime minister, if the party wins the elections and what narrative would be adopted in the situation. Shehbaz wants Maryam to stop her narrative against the establishment, keep quiet and stay away from political activities. If Shehbaz gets a free hand, then he may hold dialogue with other opposition parties, otherwise he may leave politics, it was rumoured.
According to analysts, the differences between the two groups have intensified after the release of Shehbaz. His supporters believe that Maryam does not understand practical politics, and Shehbaz must be allowed to lead the party and settle issues with institutions. Talking to a news channel, Maryam also admitted that there was a difference of opinion in the party over the narrative. However, she said she was following the narrative of Nawaz Sharif which would prevail. She said she was never against talks with institutions, but she doesn’t believe in coming to power through a deal.
The party will have to take urgent decisions to save it from splitting. The PML-N has already held many meetings after its defeat in Azad Kashmir and Sialkot elections. Some senior members are worried about the party’s future, especially its performance in the next election. They point out that the PPP is creating space for itself in the political field by getting closer to powerful quarters. They are also worried about the fact that the PPP is planning to increase its influence outside Sindh and setting sights on forming a government in the Centre, while the PML-N, which enjoys huge support in the largest province of Pakistan, is heading into a blind alley. They also fear that if the situation does not change in the coming months, many electables of the party will join other parties to secure their political future.
The defeat in the Azad Kashmir polls was not as shocking as was in the Sialkot by-polls. The PTI clinched the PP-38, Sialkot IV, seat by defeating the PML-N, by a fair margin. The PTI candidate bagged 60,588 votes whereas the PML-N polled 53,571 votes. It is a significant development in all respects. It was a PML-N stronghold and a safe seat for the party and its candidate whose family has dominated politics in the area. The party had defeated the PTI in National Assembly by-elections in Daska a few months ago.
The Daska win has given new hopes to the PTI to win local elections in Punjab next year and general elections in 2023. As happened in Daska, the ruling party can make a political alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) to win local elections in Punjab. On the other hand, the defeat shows the PML-N’s “different” narratives are losing steam and the party may not be able to win more than a few dozen seats in the next election. It is clear that no narrative has worked for the Sharifs and they have been left with the only option to hand over the party leadership to genuine workers and quit politics. It is the only way to save the party from disintegration.