The sentencing of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in NAB reference has raised serious questions about the political future of Sharif family and PML-N. It is quite possible that PML-N left out the leadership of Sharifs in the coming period. Most of the Sharif family members are facing corruption charges. The possible political heirs of Sharif family Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz are facing cases.
The question is whether Sharifs can make another come back as they did made in 2007. The main question is whether PML-N can survive the hard times it is going through at the moment. Many political pundits and experts are predicting the splits and formation of forward blocks in PML-N. PML-N has survived as a political entity so far.
Will it remain intact as a political party without major splits and defections in the long run? If both Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif remained behind bars for a longer period then PML-N might face serious problems. It will be far more difficult and problematic for Sharifs to make a comeback.
The Sharifs made remarkable and unprecedented come back after debacle of 1999. Many people and political experts announced the end of Sharifs when General Musharaf ousted them from power and first put them in prison and later send them into exile. PML-N was reduced to just 18 seats in national assembly in 2002 general elections while it got two thirds majority in 1997 general elections.
The Sharifs spent 8 years in political wilderness. Their political future had looked bleak and uncertain. But they made strong come back in 2008. Shahbaz Sharif was elected chief minister Punjab in 2008 while Nawaz Sharif made history when he became prime Minister for the third time in 2013.
The Sharifs are facing troubled times and hardships since Panama Leaks surfaced in the media. First Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power and then sentenced 11 years in prison alongside with her daughter Maryam Nawaz who was sentenced for 7 years. The PML-N lost the general elections in 2018. Then Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by NAB authorities. Now Nawaz Sharif once again sent to jail on corruption charges.
It seems that this judgment may have sealed Nawaz Sharif’s political career but it is not certain whether it is the end of Sharif’s political dynasty as well. But it seems that despite all this the conviction, sentence, and trial the Nawaz still has a strong power base in central Punjab.
The PML-N is not displaced, but certainly there is a big question mark on Nawaz Sharif’s political career. It seems that it will be very difficult for him to come back, but the PML-N will survive as a political force.
The blessing in disguise for the PML-N is the conduct of NAB and the whole process of accountability. There are serious question marks on this accountability and NAB conduct. I am not among those who defend Sharif family as it never did anything wrong. I believe that they used their political position to amass wealth.
But Sharifs are not the only ones who enriched them while in power. The whole ruling elite used their position to enrich themselves. For instance, more than 436 people were identified in Panama Papers who established Off Shore companies. But action was taken only against Nawaz Sharif. These selective actions raised question on this whole process of accountability.
The selective accountability has created the impression of political victimisation. That is one of the reasons that the verdict is seen as political victimisation. So there is certainly a political aspect to the whole thing, it’s not just simple ‘accountability’ or ‘justice being done’.
The political repercussions are no different from what they were after the first conviction, which is just that, politically, this is going to be a difficult time for the Sharif family as well as the political party.
Obviously, Nawaz has already been disqualified by the Supreme Court; there is no hope of reprieve in that case unless parliament changes the law. He was out on bail, but that bail was also contested in the Supreme Court, and now he’s disqualified plus convicted in another case.
Apart from that, there are a number of senior political leaders of the party, the loyalists; members of the kitchen cabinet also facing legal cases, references or allegations at the moment.
Khawaja Saad Rafique is under arrest, Khawaja Asif is said to be out of the country; there are reports of investigations against Ahsan Iqbal, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Rana Sanaullah… Shahid Khaqan Abbasi I think is also being questioned in the LNG case. Political parties do face legal and political battles but usually not both at the same time. Only Maryam, who has now broken her mysterious silence through her tweets, can come to the party’s rescue and hold the Sharifs’ mantle.
But Maryam being a saviour is also a headache for many party leaders, including her uncle, because she is headline material and bitterly critical of the establishment’s role. However, if Maryam doesn’t jump in the political field, I see a leadership crisis within the PML-N.
PTI and establishment will try everything to stop Sharifs making second come back. Only the grand opposition alliance of all opposition parties including PPP can rescue the Sharifs and PML-N. Both PPP and PML-N needs to joined hands to survive these difficult times. It will be difficult for PML-N alone to make a comeback.
It will not be easy for Sharifs to make a comeback. They will be indulged in a long drawn political and legal battle. But Pakistani politics is unpredictable like London weather and Pakistani cricket team. Anything can happen anytime. So let’s wait and see.
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17 November, 2019