The maxim – misfortune never comes alone – is proving devastatingly true in the case of Nawaz Sharif. First he was disqualified to be a member of parliament and had to step down from the premiership of the country. Next he was barred by the Supreme Court from being elected as head of his political party. Finally, last week, the apex court ruled that under the relevant provisions of the constitution of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification is for life. This means that the PML-N has entered its post-Nawaz era.
A ban has also now been clamped on the use of inappropriate language by Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz against state institutions, including the judiciary and the army. Last week, the Lahore High Court barred all Pakistani TV channels from airing the speeches of the ruling PML-N party’s leadership, which targeted the country’s top judiciary. Significantly, the decision came immediately after the apex court’s historic verdict banning Nawaz Sharif from politics for life. This has put paid to the slanderous political campaign he has been carrying on for the last eight months, targeting both his political rivals and honourable judges of the apex court.
The wheel has come full circle and the man who has been in politics for the 38 years and held the post of prime minister three times is in the political wilderness. But that is not the end of the story. Corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif are nearing completion in the accountability court which may result in his conviction. The entire Nawaz Sharif episode beginning with the thunderbolt of Panama Papers looks like an enactment of the Greek tragedy in which the hubris of the chief protagonist proves his undoing.
The question now is: what next?
The future of the party looks bleak given the splits and fissures that are becoming clearer by the day. Last week, a number of PML-N lawmakers tendered resignations and announced that they would oppose the party in the upcoming general election. In the days ahead, the PML-N is likely to witness more defections, with electables choosing to join another party or go independent before the elections. Political analysts expect a group of 40-50 independent candidates contesting under the same symbol and as an informal group that will be in a bargaining position in the new legislature.
If Shahbaz Sharif is also convicted, the Sharif family will lose its grip over the party. With the incoming general election only weeks away, the defections of electable candidates only send a strong message to opportunistic politicians that now is the time to jump ship, for staying with the ruling party only means staying with the losers.
Needless to say, the perception of the ruling party’s growing isolation is increasing pressure on candidates who are now a part of the PML-N government. Surely, they would not like to end up high and dry after the next general election is over. We may also see the spectacle of the party contesting elections against its former members in a number of constituencies, especially in south Punjab. In that case, PML-N senior leaders will face the daunting task of keeping the party structure intact.
As of now, PML-N is divided into two camps. Maryam Nawaz’s harsh narrative that she has been pushing through in political rallies has created deep differences within the party. Chaudhry Nisar as well as other senior party stalwarts are against the aggressive stance taken against the judiciary and the military. Their argument is that the belligerent approach is jeopardising any remaining chances of the party’s survival in the medium run. Even Shahbaz Sharif is of the view that the party should not be pushed to the point of no return.
No doubt, the PML-N is in a tricky situation. Unless its leadership, which is in effectively in the hands of firebrand Maryam Nawaz, alters its current political approach and stops berating state institutions, the party will continue sinking deeper into a morass of its own making.
The upcoming elections may throw up many surprises. With PML-N’s political support eroding and PTI making inroads in Punjab and Sind, we may have a hung parliament at the centre with a large number of independents lending support to the winning combination. In Punjab, too, the possibility of a coalition government is strong with a number of parties opposed to PML-N coming together to form an alliance.
According to political pundits, PTI will continue to rule in KP, while in Sindh PPP will form the government with the support of MQM or independents. Balochistan remains a political enigma where both PPP and PTI are vying to garner political support. Both at the centre and in the Punjab, PTI and Pakistan People’s Party may ultimately go for seat adjustment to remain relevant in the new political dispensation whose counters are becoming clearer with each passing day. The country is entering a new political era in which PML-N will be a mere shadow of its former self.