Panicked by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s continued outburst against the army and the judiciary, politicians from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have made a beeline to join the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan. Almost 100 legislators have already quit the PML-N and dozens of others are in contact with the PTI but the party is finding it difficult to absorb all of them.
Defections in the PML-N have accelerated after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement on the Mumbai attacks. His remarks are being seen as an attempt to malign Pakistan and the army for his personal survival. However, PML-N legislators have informed him that they cannot carry his heavy baggage through the election. It is said dozens of diehard party leaders met him at his Jati Umra residence to express their concern about his irresponsible remarks. Reportedly, they informed him that they could not fight with the army and contest the next election on the basis of his anti-army, anti-judiciary and anti-Pakistan narrative. Sources say he promised to soften his stance but still the damage to his party is irreversible, as few people would stand by him until the election while most of his cabinet members and he himself face jail in the coming weeks and months.
Last month, a large number of PML-N legislators from south Punjab joined the PTI. Almost all prominent politicians of the region are expected to defect to it after the party promised to carve out a new province in the region. South Punjab accounts for 48 national assembly seats, almost one-third of national assembly seats from the province. It will be a great achievement of the PML-N if it bags few seats in the region in the present wave of popularity of the PTI and intensity in the demand for a south Punjab province. Besides south Punjab, defections from the PML-N have started from other parts of the province. Recently, notable lawmakers from central Punjab quit the PML-N and joined the PTI. They included MNAs Ghulam Bibi Bharwana and Sahibzada Mohammad Nazir Sultan. Former MNA Ghulam Abbasi Qureshi and former members of the Punjab assembly Meher Mohammad Aslam Bharwana, Mian Muzaffar Mehmood, Rana Shahbaz Ahmad and Mian Asif Kathia also reposed trust in Imran Khan’s leadership. Former members of the Punjab assembly Ghulam Ahmed Khan Gadi, Sheikh Mohammad Yaqoob and Meher Sultan Sikandar have also joined the captain’s team. PML-N MPAs Mazhar Abbas from Multan and Chaudhry Ashraf from Gujranwala along with his brother Chaudhry Afzal have also defected to the PTI.
The PML-N rout in the central Punjab region of Gujranwala is more worrying for it as two sitting MNAs have already joined the PTI. They included former Federal Minister Rana Nazir Ahmed of Kamoke and his sons — Rana Umer Nazir (MNA) and Aamir Nazir, vice chairman of the Gujranwala District Council. Two months ago, PML-N MNA Mian Tariq Mahmood had shifted loyalties for being annoyed over the dominance of the Dastgir family in the regional politics of the PML-N. Former PPP MPA Zulfiqar Bhinder, who was a runner-up as a PPP candidate against Rana Umer Nazir in 2013, has already joined the PTI. It will be a herculean task for the party to balance rival groups in the region at the time of awarding party tickets. Sardar Ghulam Abbas, the most influential politician of Chakwal, took Nawaz Sharif’s recent interview as a chance to quit his party. Addressing a press conference, he said he could not defend Nawaz Sharif during the election campaign due to his recent interview. “From today I have nothing to do with the PML-N. We are leaving the party and from today our group is independent,” he added. He and his group are expected to join the PTI before or after the election.
Expressing his joy at a large number of newcomers, PTI Chairman Imran Khan took a jibe at Nawaz Sharif, saying that the so-called Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader was, in fact, campaigning for the PTI through his “love fest” with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Much as I appreciate Nawaz campaigning for the PTI through his now-obvious love fest with Modi, to save his corruption and business interests; I am alarmed that at the rate he is speaking Modi’s language, the PTI may not be able to take in the massive exodus from the PML-N,” he tweeted.
Imran Khan is absolutely confident of winning the next election as he has announced his first 100-day plan after coming to power, over two months even before the polls. He has promised to create 10 million jobs and five million low-cost homes. Unveiling his plan, he said he would transform Pakistan into a welfare state under the guiding principles of Islam. His party will have to win at least 120-130 national assembly seats to implement the plan. According to analysts, the PTI has changed its political strategy in the Punjab and will contest the election with a large number of “electables,” which ensured the success of the PML-N and the PPP in the past.
However, his victory will not be a cakewalk as the PML-N will go to any extent to discredit him before the election. According to sources, the Sharif family has invested millions of dollars to make a “dirty” film on him and services of a foreign company have been hired for it. It will also fund the mainstream media with reports and allegations to malign his image in Pakistan and abroad. Two women, sponsored by the PML-N, are already out to defame him, his former wife Reham Khan and former PTI MNA Ayesha Gulalai. Reham’s book is in final stages and will be released soon. The former prime minister and his party will seek revenge and employ all possible resources to defame and stop him from winning the next election. Some media houses, sponsored by the Sharif family, are on the forefront against Imran. They twist and spin reports to portray that he is unfit to lead the country. There are also reports of more women levelling charges against him as the election nears. More reports and details will emerge about his personal life. He will have to be extra careful about his words and actions before and after the election to avoid any controversy. A wind of change has started blowing in the country and the PTI is expected to sweep the polls despite negative tactics and propaganda.