A pyrrhic victory?
Despite being a disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems to be ready to throw down the gauntlet. Buttressed by mammoth public meetings in recent weeks and decisive wins in bye-elections the PML-N is brimming with confidence.
The recent election in Lodhran NA-154 was the icing on the cake. Imran Khan’s close confidant Jahangir Tareen’s son Ali Tareen — a freshman so far as politics is concerned — lost by a wide margin to a relatively unknown and reluctant PML-N candidate. This was Tareen’s adopted constituency where he was unseated after being disqualified by the apex court.
Sharif is obviously jubilant. In a recent huddle of party loyalists he taunted those who had advised caution in the immediate aftermath of his disqualification by not confronting the military leadership and the higher judiciary. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan the erstwhile confidant of Sharif was singled out for ridicule. The MNA from Chakri had advised the former prime minister to retreat quietly to his Raiwind abode rather than take the confrontational GT road route in the form of rallies.
Interestingly younger brother and presumptive PML-N candidate for premiership Shahbaz Sharif is also a dove so far as taking on the establishment and the apex court judges is concerned. But he is spared the public ridicule perhaps being perceived as playing the good cop role as a matter of strategy.
Sharifs and their team on the other hand, being in power for decades know very well how to work the constituencies to their advantage
It is obvious that Sharif and his charismatic daughter Maryam Nawaz spewing fire and brimstone almost on a daily basis are reverberating with their supporters. It is all happening when the PTI seems to be going into a tailspin. Axiomatically the self righteous Khan talking about introspection is a miracle in itself.
The party’s so called core committee met in the immediate aftermath of the Lodhran debacle to chalk out future a strategy in the light of recent setbacks. Visibly the PTI chief’s luster has worn off to some extent.
The size of his public meetings has shrunk. The persistent loss of recent bye-elections has not helped either.
Some critics contend that the Khan has a single dimensional agenda: to expose the perceived corruption of the Sharifs and Zardari. It resonated well with the public. But of late the law of diminishing returns has started to kick in making Khan’s rhetoric seem almost like a broken record.
What are the PTI’s future agenda regarding the economy, foreign and security policies and the general welfare of the people is rarely talked about. The PTI leadership simply does not exploit the Sharifs obsession with motorways, metro trains and power projects at the expense of the social sector to the extent it should.
The fact that issues like lack of education facilities, civic amenities, a dismal law and order situation and the common man finding it simply impossible to make ends meet are simply not PTI’s issues. There is a pervasive feeling that the Khan has failed to comprehend the psychological make up of the majority of the rural populace. Some even wonder how far the endemic corruption of the political elite even resonates with the man on the street?
Sharifs and their team on the other hand, being in power for decades know very well how to work the constituencies to their advantage. In a parliamentary system rather than presidential at the end of the day what matters is how many party ticket holders win at the hustings. This is the name of the game.
Notwithstanding the ostensible upsurge of the ruling party the small print does not auger well for the elder Sharif and his daughter. In the backdrop of their legal troubles recent successes just might prove to be a pyrrhic victory.
According to legal experts Sharif and his daughter inevitably face conviction in corruption references filed by the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) against them. The sentences would be harsh and probably include imprisonment for both of them.
Judging by the CJP Saqib Nisar’s rhetorical question whether a “chor ya daakoo” (thief or dacoit) can remain a party’s chief portends the verdict in the case challenging Sharif’s heading the party.
The NAB requesting the Interior Ministry to put Sharif and his daughter on the ECL (Exit Control List) and denying the former prime minister exemption from personal appearance to visit his ailing wife in London does not leave much for the imagination.
It is obvious that the dice is heavily loaded against Sharif and his daughter. The judges having the last laugh will simply not spare them.
Sharif, notwithstanding the evidence stacked against him knows this and hence offense is the best defence in his lexicon.
However his rather self-serving logic that he will be acquitted at the people’s court in the ultimate analysis will not fly. After his persistent attacks on the judiciary and somewhat muted criticism of the ubiquitous establishment he knows that his fate is sealed.
The only moot point remains what kind of street power his supporters can muster after his conviction. If the past is any guide it will be a difficult proposition to put up a sizeable resistance.
Having perennially remained in power for such a long period the PML- N unlike the PPP of yesteryears is not a party of resistance. It is one thing to pontificate on the media and another to cause massive disruption.
Sharif got a taste of this bitter reality when he attempted to force his entry back to Pakistan while in exile during Musharrf’s rule. Apart from his wife a few of his stalwarts could be seen on the streets of Lahore. In fact virtually all of them were in hiding to avoid arrest.
Some critics contend that the Khan has a single dimensional agenda: to expose the perceived corruption of the Sharifs and Zardari
Most of them are federal or provincial ministers now in the PML-N cabinets in Punjab and at the federal level. Perhaps with the exception of a few none have neither the gumption nor the desire to take to the streets. Especially those who have amassed massive wealth by misusing their office will be reluctant to defy the establishment who has reportedly collected enough evidence against them.
The first line of defence to be breached will be the turncoat who joined the PML-N to enjoy the perks and privileges of the party in power.
However Shahbaz Sharif also being the preferred candidate of the military for premiership might literally be the saving grace. If his elder brother gives him his blessings he will be the acceptable face to all including his own party.
This could save the PML-N as well as the Sharifs in the medium and long run. Despite the recent upsurge the PML-N scoring a repeat heavy mandate is highly unlikely.
The most likely scenario seems to be no party attaining an absolute majority. Miracles do happen. But none seems to be in the offing.
A hung parliament suits everyone except the PML-N leadership. This most importantly includes the omnipresent establishment.
Political engineers are working full time to achieve this goal. But as they say: man proposes and God disposes. Sharif is perhaps hoping for such a miracle to happen.