Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has started countrywide tours to forge alliances with other parties after becoming the president of the ruling party. He knows he is fighting a lost battle, as it will be a big achievement if the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) wins 40 National Assembly seats in the next election. It is also expected to lose at least three National Assembly and eight Punjab Assembly seats in its home city of Lahore.
According to a survey by a civil intelligence agency, the PML-N will lose at least 52 National Assembly seats and over 100 Punjab Assembly seats in its home province. It will lose four National Assembly and six Provincial Assembly seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw (KP) and it would be a great success if it bags two seats in the province, which is a stronghold of its rival Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan. In Sindh and Balochistan, the party of disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can bag two seats each, if it performs really well. The report says the PML-N will lose at least three National Assembly seats and eight Provincial Assembly seats in Lahore and would face tough contest on five National Assembly seats. Its position is also weak in Gujranwala, Wazirabad, Kamonke and Noshera Virkan. Federal Minister Khurram Dastagir may not be able to retain his seat. The ruling party will lose almost all seats in Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan. Many political families are also expected to change loyalties after the announcement of the election. It said the number of independent candidates will be larger than the last election and many PML-N leaders, including former Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, will contest the election independently.
Almost all legislators of the ruling party from the south Punjab are expected to leave it. Their number is at least 46 MNAs and almost 100 MPAs. Six MNAs and two MPAs have already quit the party and launched a movement for a new province under Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz. The PML-N leadership smells a rat in the demand for a new province while the lawmakers from south Punjab believe the call for a separate province will result in more defections in the party. The ruling party has also promised to work for a separate province but the locals and their leaders are not willing to believe it. It does not have any logical answer for not pushing ahead for a separate province. Every politician from south Punjab will have to support the movement directly or indirectly to please the voters. The “electables” of the region have two options: either contest the election on the PTI platform, or independently. Some could also join the PPP, but it is not expected to form the government in the Punjab or the Centre.
The disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for life will also scare electables away. His narrative has also created differences in the party. Former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali and many others are against the harsh tone against the judiciary and the military. They believe the narrative will put the survival of the party at stake. Some believe the damage has already been done. Even the current president of the party, Shahbaz Sharif, appears to be reluctant to follow his narrative. It is said he used Nisar Ali to counter the narrative of his elder brother in the party. According to Zubair Mehmood, former secretary to Tehmina Durrani, wife of Shahbaz Sharif, Nisar’s opposition to the PML-N leadership was planned by Shahbaz Sharif. “Shahbaz did not want Maryam Nawaz to head the PML-N. Nisar opposed the party leadership on his directives,” he told a news channel. He plans to launch his book in few months. He said a TV interview of Hamza Shahbaz was fixed to explain the position of his father. “Hamza wanted to convey a message to the establishment that his father was against Nawaz Sharif’s rhetoric against national institutions,” he explained.
After the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz could be in serious trouble. Shahbaz Sharif’s biggest problem is Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who do not spare any chance to savage the establishment and the judiciary. They have adopted the stance since the court had taken up the Panama case against the family. Many ministers, close to the former prime minister and his daughter, have followed suit. They still believe they are winning and have put the establishment and the judiciary on the back foot. In fact, they have put the future of their party at stake. Maryam will be jailed for at least seven years for presenting forged papers before the Supreme Court of Pakistan during the Panama case, even if she is exonerated from all corruption cases. Shahbaz faces many serious cases against him and any one of them from the Sasti Roti Scheme, Multan Metro Bus, Lahore Metro Bus, Ashiana Scheme, 56 public sector companies and Model Town case could prove fatal for him. Dozens of electables will leave the party after the conviction of Nawaz Sharif and the party could cease to exist if Shahbaz Sharif is also convicted, which appears highly possible ahead of elections. In the situation, the party could land in the lap of Nisar Ali. However, it will not be able to pose any serious problem to the PTI, which is expected to form the government in the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the Centre.
According to analysts, some close aides to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif have advised him to rename the party or fund a new party to brighten the chances of his success. However, it appears he will have to rename himself to stay alive in politics.