Divided they fall, united they stand
Political confrontation inside the Sharif family continues to deepen. Reportedly Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab’s Chief Minister, has been trying to mediate between Maryam and his son, Hamza, who appears to have developed substantial differences regarding the way the party is being run and its future leadership.
Now, the long-term challenge for the elder Sharif’s remains with this question: how the party’s transition can be done amicably when the second generation of the party’s leadership is divided over the issue of leadership, governance style, policy preferences and the party’s structuring?
If one is to only consider that the house of Sharif is facing some political frictions because the party’s current leadership is nearing its retirement, then it should not strike as an issue which would result in the collapse of the party. When one looks at the transition phases of political parties, not just in Pakistan, but also in regions that share similar political trends, it becomes clear that some levels of frictions are always part such processes. But, if the friction is not handled adequately and practically, such phases also become reasons of political units collapse. For instance, so far, the Pakistan People’s Party in Pakistan is the only major political party that has experienced such transition. After the death of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the issue of succession became central to the party’s future. The confrontation between Benazir Bhutto and her brothers has been noted and debated vigorously. However, the party did survive with Benazir’s name because she was able to convince the party ideologues that she was the credible and legitimate political heir of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Moreover, another reason that also helped Benazir to settle at the party’s throne successfully was her mother’s direct support which also brought much of the party’s original support base for Benazir.
Now in Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s case, the question of political ownership of the party, credibility, and legitimacy of the next generation and the old guard’s support for the new leadership is bitterly contentious. In Sharif family’s case, the second generation of the party’s leadership – Hamza and Maryam – wants to sit at the top of the leadership. The issue: the daughter of the party’s current and founding chief, Nawaz Sharif, inherits legitimacy due to her father’s role while the son of Shahbaz Sharif wants the leadership because of this role and work for the organization, particularly in Punjab which is the crown jewel of PMLN’s electoral strength.
The reports that Shahbaz Sharif had successfully resolved issues between the cousins are only the beginning of the rivalry which will ultimately decide the future of the party. It has become clear that Hamza feels that his hard work in terms of dealing with the contentious and brawling nature of local politics in Punjab has earned him the place for the party’s top seat. Moreover, he feels that his own position and role in the province has been undermined the way Maraym is leading the campaign to bring herself in the middle of the party’s internal affairs.
Another reason for the growing differences between the cousins is the way Maryam has resorted to handing various critical issues such as the Panama Papers scandal and other matters of strategic importance. It’s obvious that Hamza, who has learned or perhaps mastered the art of Punjab’s politics which requires settling, issues behind the doors rather than challenging the rivals by using media glare, sees his own political future at risk if his party continued the current policy of confrontation with the military and the country’s judiciary.
Now the question which will decide whether the party remains a single unit or scrambles into various bits and pieces is this: will the next generation of the ruling party be able to keep the peace and amicable work understanding that the Sharif brothers have kept for the last two decade? The reports have started to emerge that in Punjab, various lawmakers have started to ask that Shahbaz Sharif should lead the party which brings back Hamza at the top of the party’s decision making body. Also, there are reports that the current rivalry may lead to a number of forward blocks in the party before the next general elections if the dispute remained.
It’s understandable that Nawaz Sharif is ultimately going to decide the future leader of the party. But the important part of that decision is going to rest with this bottom-line: whatever decision is made, it’s going to be important that decision is taken as a unanimous and acceptable by all stakeholders in the party when it comes to power sharing inside the Sharif family.
Any decision that fails to create unanimity inside the party and particularly inside the Sharif family, will only lead to the party’s political collapse with other political organizations eyeing to fill the vacuum.