Usman Buzdar’s election as the Punjab chief minister marks the end of the Pakistan Muslim League’s 33-year rule in the province. He had joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) just 100 days ago and rose to become the chief minister of the biggest province of Pakistan. The big responsibility means he will remain the focus of the media, people and his own party and he has no option to falter.
He faces many challenges but lacks experience. He may not be novice in politics but he was elected Member of the Punjab Assembly (MPA) for the first time. The opposition is strong and people of his own party will resist him because they think the post should have been given to a seasoned politician of the party. He cannot expect favours from Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who will concentrate on weakening other parties and strengthening his own. He had made his plan clear during his election as Punjab Assembly speaker. Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar also has political ambitions and influence in the party. He could also pose problems for him. He is the second chief minister from south Punjab after Dost Muhammad Khosa of the PML-N. Khosa was powerless and named only as a stopgap arrangement until the election of Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister. It is feared Usman Buzdar has also been appointed temporarily. There are rumours that former PTI Secretary General Jahangir Tareen will replace him after the Supreme Court of Pakistan could set aside his disqualification. It is also being speculated that Jahangir Tareen and other senior members of the party will monitor his performance.
Controversy started the moment he was appointed by PTI Chairman Imran Khan after weeks of deliberations. News channels accused him of killing six people and involvement in corruption cases in 1998. It was reported that a murder case of six people was registered against him, his father and brother by Border Military Police and it was settled through a jirga in 2000. It was said sub clans of Buzdar tribe – Chakaranis and Ladwanis, had clashed during local bodies elections in 1998. The Ladwanis were allegedly backed by Usman Buzdar. The clash left six Chakarani tribesmen dead at the polling station of Goasani Sarbil. Later, the case was sent to an anti-terrorism court but it was decided through a jirga. The jirga ordered the accused to pay Rs7.5 million to the families of the victims. He was also accused of facing corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). However, Usman Buzdar, the police and the NAB denied the charges. According to a police report, no proof was found against Usman Buzdar and his father and they had been exonerated from the murders. It appeared the cases would derail his nomination but sanity prevailed and a smear campaign fizzled out. According to the PTI, the false propaganda was launched in the media at the behest of the PML-N to malign the party.
It is to the credit of the PTI that it chose an unknown Usman Buzdar for the prized post only 100 days of joining the party. His rise is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history as no political party has ever nominated a newcomer to a top post in such a short span of time. Analysts say Imran Khan has taken a huge risk in a province which decides the fate of political parties in every election. Former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had created an impression for himself of working day and night for the welfare of people. Usman Buzdar will be the butt of criticism if he fails to show a better performance. His election is also a message for activists of other parties, especially the PML-N, that newcomers can only excel in the PTI. On the other hand, the PML-N named Hamza Shahbaz for the post and made it clear that top slots only belong to the Sharif family and political workers come last on its priority list. On the other hand, Buzdar is not related to Imran Khan or any other party leader. That would be impossible in the PPP and the PML-N. His critics say it is being highlighted that he is the only MPA without electricity in his house in Dera Ghazi Khan, but a list of 10 properties he owns and disclosed in his nomination papers submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan is being ignored.
In his first address to the Punjab Assembly after his election, the chief minister said those questioning the merit of his nomination should understand that belonging to one of the poorest areas of the Punjab qualified him for the post. “My first priority is to bring good governance to the Punjab. We will also improve our institutions. I promise today to break the status quo. All our MPAs will be empowered and all of them will act like chief ministers in their own areas,” he said.
Usman Buzdar has become the first non-Muslim Leaguer who has become the Punjab chief minister since 1985. In the process, the PTI has become the only party that has ended the decades-long rule of the PML-N in province. It began with the election of Nawaz Sharif as Punjab chief minister 33-years ago. In 1988, he was again elected as chief minister as a candidate of the Islami Jamhuri Ittehad, a nine-party alliance, whose major component was the Muslim League. He held the office until 1990. In 1990, Ghulam Hyder Wyne, another Muslim Leaguer, was elected chief minister. He held the office until 1992, when a revolt in his own parliamentary party deprived him of the office and former Punjab Assembly speaker and another Muslim Leaguer, Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, was elected chief minister. He held the office till the dissolution of the assemblies in 1993. After the 1993 election, the PPP bagged the most seats in the Punjab but the Muslim League-Junejo, with only 16 seats, formed the government and Manzoor Wattoo once again became the chief minister. He held the office till 1995, after which the PPP revolted against him and he lost the slot. However, the PPP once again failed to form the government and another Muslim Leaguer, Arif Nakai, became the chief minister. In the 1997 general election, the PML-N won and Shahbaz Sharif was elected the chief minister. He continued till October 12, 1999, when Pervez Musharraf toppled the PML-N government. After the 2002 election, Pervaiz Elahi, provincial president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), was elected chief minister. In the 2008 elections, PML-N’s Dost Muhammad Khosa took oath as chief minister. After two months, Shahbaz Sharif took oath as chief minister after winning by-polls. He continued till 2018.
Sources say Usman Buzdar is not a stopgap arrangement and will not be replaced any time soon. He will be given a free hand to perform and would only be dislodged if he fails to deliver. As regards the chances of Jahangir Tareen’s getting a clean chit from the Supreme Court, legal experts say the court rarely overturns it verdict. Buzdar’s election aims to quell voices for a separate province because the PTI is not in a position to amend law in the National Assembly and it holds a bare minimum majority in the Punjab Assembly. A new province in south Punjab will deprive it of the right to rule in the rest of the province, because most of its legislators won from the region. The new chief minister will be directly monitored by Prime Minister Imran Khan. He had monitored the performance of former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who was an ordinary politician, and almost wiped out all parties in the election from the province. He wants to emulate the example in the Punjab with a younger and more vibrant chief minister, with some adjustments to perform even better.