The return of the King

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s return is tied to elections


This is not the first time that the PML(N) has expected party Quaid and three-time PM Mian Nawaz Sharif to return from the UK where he is in self-exile (or has overtsayed his bail, depending on your point of view), but now it is serious. The reason is that the clock is ticking in the countdown to the next general election, which is now less than a year away. If there is to be any point of returning, he should return now, so that he can campaign in the next general elections.

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This has nothing to do with PTI chief Imran Khan’s demand for fresh elections, or the manner in which he is trying to get them. Along with other parties, the PML(N) also faces the prospect of 2024 being a year of double elections, because if Imran carries out his threat of dissolving the Punjab and KP Assemblies, where he has governments, they will have elections early next year, not later than March (the exact date will depend on that of the dissolution). However, if the federal government holds out to the end of term, national elections will take place in October.

Therefore, if the |PML(N) wants Mian Nawaz back for the provincial campaign, if there is one, it would like him to come back soon.

It should be remembered that Mian Nawaz will have to be back not just for the three weeks of campaigning allowed by law before the election, but for the preliminary process of awarding tickets. It will stretch him, because he is a septuagenarian with two bypasses, but if these provincial elections are held, they will be in provinces where he has more electoral appeal, and where he has historically campaigned more.

It is also worth noting that his daughter Maryam, who only recently went to see him, has not returned home. That is a strong indication that she will return with him. Even if Imran does not get his CMs to dissolve, the only way to keep Mian Nawaz away would be put off the National Assembly election.

That is possible only if Parliament passes a law, and Emergency is composed. There is however no constitutional provision which allows the provincial assemblies’ elections to be put of, even though the Emergency may be imposed in a province, which will enable Parliament to legislate in addition to the provincial assembly.

However, because any contradiction will be resolved in favour of Parliament’s legislation, the provincial assembly is ousted. The provincial government may be assumed by the federal government, and handed over to the Governor, or anyone else. This is done by an Order. However, there is nothing about postponing provincial elections. However, if such elections are held, and if the province is under emergency, the federal government may prevent that Assembly anointing a provincial government. This can only last so long as the federal government avoids a dissolution of Parliament.

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It must also be kept in mind that Proclamations of Emergency are subject to judicial challenge, and it will be up to the federal government to show that conditions existed for the imposition of an Emergency, like war or internal disturbance beyond the ability of the provincial government to control.

Mere political expediency is no longer a sufficient cause, though it seems to have been in the past. The federal government may try to use the reasoning given in 1988 in Haji Saifullah’s case, that elections had to be held late because they had been announced, and the country was ready for them then, not earlier, and argue that the Emergency precluded the provincial governments from continuing, and elections were to be held anyhow. Of course, matters would be even more complicated if two provinces were under caretaker governments.

Whatever the situation, there will be elections in 2023, at least for the four provincial assemblies, even if there is no early dissolution, even if Parliament extends its life by legislation under a Proclamation of Emergency.

However, it does not seem that Imran will get early dissolutions. The threatening noises he has made have not had the result of the federal government coming up with a date for elections. He should also remember that Mian Shehbaz can only dissolve the National Assembly on his own. His party, the PML(N) does not control a single provincial government. To dissolve the Sindh and Balochistan Assemblies. He would need two coalition partners, the PPP snd the Balochistan Awami Party, to come on board.

However, while Imran apparently has two provinces, the CMs have been hemming and hawing. While the KP CM is a party man, the Punjab CM is not. However, the KP CM has made the Punjab’s dissolution a condition of dissolution. Punjab CM Ch Pervez Elahi has demurred. Saying that dissolution should not take place until March. If Imran was to withdraw its MPAs,the Punjab government would collapse. Or would it? The PML(N) governor could ask Ch Pervez to take a vote of confidence, for which he could not produce the requisite numbers without the PTI, or the PML(N) could bring a vote of no-confidence, for which it would have to produce the needed numbers.

It could support Ch Pervez from outside, voting for his budget, but not accepting any ministries, which would probably be distributed among the miniscule PML(Q) parliamentary party. It would also be possible after April to induct non-members as ministers, on the pretext that theft they were finding a seat (Not their fault if the Assembly’s tenure lapsed before that). While such an arrangement would be ridiculous, it would be possible. Its main advantage is to the PML(N), which will not be tainted with having joined a Pervez ministry.

The big advantage of the PML(N) is that this would pave the way for Mian Nawaz to return. There have been two returns recently which seem to be paving the way for Mian Nawaz, that of Ishaq Dar and Salman Shehbaz. Both had been declared proclaimed offenders, Both got transit bail to the trial court, Dar surrendered and got bail in the case he was facing. Salman is also expected to get bail after he surrenders. Similarly, Mian Nawaz would prefer not to be arrested by the Punjab Police at the airport, taken into custody and then produced before the Lahore High Court, which had granted him bail to get treatment abroad. Mian Nawaz was not under trial, but was a convict, and his custody would be accordingly.

There are also the logistics of his return. Ever since Benazir Bhutto’s triumphant return to Pakistan in 1986, politicians have used that as a standard. Mian Nawaz himself has staged two such returns, once when he was turned back, and the next time to stay, with the 2013 elections looming. Again, with elections looming, Nawaz needs a comeback of titanic proportions, and the PML(N) is doing its best to ensure this. Punjab President Rana Sanaullah has organised the party down to the umnion council-level, which will also stand the party well in coming elections. Even if the Punjab Assembly and national elections occur on the same day, thew local body polls are overdue, and will be held separately. Meanwhile, the party organisation is geared towards welcoming Mian Nawaz.

Whether or not Imran opts for dissolutions, 2023 is an election year.  While there is no guarantee that dissolving two provincial assemblies will guarantee national elections (and this is an argument used by the two baulking CMs), there will have to be four provincial elections in November, and perhaps national polls as well. Mian Nawaz has played the Ishaq sqDar cvard, which has not really worked. He will have to come back personally to minimize the damage caused by the sputtering economy to his party at the hustings.


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