PML-N’s problems’ cut deeper than Nawaz

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Salman Hassan |

It is quite inconceivable to suggest that a political party that commands a majority in parliament, has a serving head of state, and a mature organization going deep into public grassroots would so frequently find itself stuck in political hot waters – especially when that party can claim to have a few accomplishments to its name.

Indeed if the League has found itself in dire straits today, it’s not due to establishment’s ploys so much as its own archaic way of doing politics that’s disastrously out of step with today’s realities

But that has been the fate of ruling PML-N. It has been cornered and pressed into disgrace – in small part by the revelations coming out of Panama probe but mostly due to a long list of self-inflicted blunders – one after another – each more damaging than the preceding one. The league has landed itself right at the edge of eternal infamy and come dangerously close to fragmenting – and it’s not due to the ferocity of its political rivals or conspiracies of powers that be as much as its own embarrassing failure to adapt and reform.

The list of N League’s missteps is a long and glaring one – it’s a list that poses some serious question about party’s outlook to dynamism.

Read more: PML-N does a Raymond Davis; compels Hamid’s family to accept Diyat…

But let’s start with their style of politics. The League, since its beginnings about three decades ago, has remained a stoutly family-centered party with Nawaz at its helm and close relatives perched comfortably at key positions.

The salvo of personal attacks made against rivals on twitter, primetime TV, and outside Supreme Court, during Panama’s hearing by party officials bear a horrid testimony to this fact

This theme of heredity succession is so central to the party that even in the wake of what was Nawaz’s fairly likely ouster, a suitable replacement for the premiere was noticeably absent from the scene. The ‘shock’ of verdict sent the party reeling and exposed the underlying uncertainty over who would take the baton from Nawaz.

And though the Prime Minister was dismissed at what can be called his career’s twilight, the party still juggled possible replacements for a long while before it finally decided on Khaqan Abbasi, the current premier. The cult like status of Nawaz Sharif in League means that evidently no individual, outside his family at least, was deemed fit to be prepared to ever take over from him should the need arise.

Read more: PML-N to beef up mass contact: Has election campaign already started?

And while the decision to nominate Kulsoom Nawaz, former PM’s wife, for the ancestral seat in Lahore may primarily be tactical – since the party is afraid of betting on a non-Sharif suffixed candidate – the move does have strong familial dimensions to it. And resultantly, it has invoked feelings of resentment and rejection from the public.

The League has all but lost the right to be counted among entities that have moved away from the traditional path of smear and slander in the country and showed time and again

It’s true that votes are, above all, won by delivering results on the ground and that the Sharif headed PMLN has fared reasonably well in this domain but, at the same time, other, more crucial variables have come into play which has completely transformed the rules of the game, both locally and abroad.

The last decade or so have seen the steady rise of a potent, educated, and urbanized middle-class that is both ever-alert and holds the power of shaping country’s political mood. More importantly, though, it’s a class that has come to prioritize moral values in politics over progress towards tangibles like highways, power plants, or metros.

And while it’s true that heated debates over which one of the two should take precedence over the other seem set to drag on indefinitely, fact remains that nation’s tolerance for what it perceives as dishonest leadership is fast disappearing. With that said, it’d be wise to recognize that those left standing in the way of public’s raging appetite for accountability will be torn to bits by popular sentiments.

Read more: Maligning the honourables; PML-N’s declaration of war

The thrust of its botched strategy of highlighting its successes rests on hanging poorly-designed banners around intersections and flooding late night shows with stale eulogies to Sharifs

So wooing the growing mass of educated youth should be among the top goals of any political force if it plans on surviving long-term.

Maryam Safdar, Nawaz’s daughter, does appear to offer a way out. And in recognition of this opportunity, a string of recent attempts to facelift party’s outlook by moving her to the center stage has been made. But unluckily for the party, her prospects too have taken a hit following Supreme Court’s Panama verdict.

This is beside the fact that, relatively speaking, she has so far been quite unsuccessful in appealing to the country’s soaring, and increasingly questioning youth the way Imran Khan, her father’s main political rival, has.

So it comes as no surprise that given League’s focus on erecting shiny landmarks, and their perceived apathy for health and education; or their dubious ethical credentials have landed them on the wrong side of social-media savvy denizens – which follows that if the party is serious about pushing back on social media front, it will have to rethink its policy priorities on ground and improve upon its lackluster and out-of-style advertising. Plastering newspaper front pages with self-congratulatory ads are just not going to cut it.

Read more: ounger Sharif to be the next PML-N chief: how will Nawaz…

So wooing the growing mass of educated youth should be among the top goals of any political force if it plans on surviving long-term

Coming back to changing times – it goes without saying that in this age of information overload when stakes of war of narratives are at their highest, the League has failed miserably at capturing space to highlight whatever achievements it has made in its tenure so far.

The thrust of its botched strategy of highlighting its successes rests on hanging poorly-designed banners around intersections and flooding late night shows with stale eulogies to Sharifs – ways that have, to say the least, failed to resonate with the online populace. This is one of the reasons why it has so far failed to put its case before the TV-watching, internet browsing urbanites – large sections of which continue to remain unmoved.

To make matters worse, the history of online activity of League’s social media legion displays a clear lack of political insight and is littered with examples of petty mudslinging, and sometimes, even flat lies. From the misquoting of facts, which can be easily cross-checked in today’s age of real-time journalism, to self-harming rhetoric, the League’s digital portfolio has mostly been a comic embarrassment.

A flurry of pictures presented as scenes from Nawaz Sharif’s home coming rally that were actually captured abroad would be a recent case in point.

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The cult like status of Nawaz Sharif in League means that evidently no individual, outside his family at least, was deemed fit to be prepared to ever take over from him should the need arise

There’s also the high and haughty way with which party mouth pieces have appeared before the public and run its media campaign. Thanks to the constant media bluster by many of its spokesmen, the League has all but lost the right to be counted among entities that have moved away from the traditional path of smear and slander in the country and showed time and again how they’re still miles away from being recognized as a force educated sections of society can rally behind. The salvo of personal attacks made against rivals on twitter, prime time TV, and outside Supreme Court, during Panama’s hearing by party officials bear a horrid testimony to this fact.

So, to put it in a nutshell, PML-N is hardly justified in playing the victim card following removal of its leader from Prime Minister’s office simply because much of the mess party is currently tangled up in could have easily been avoided had it put any effort in developing a culture of looking inwards and forwards. Indeed, if the League has found itself in dire straits today, it’s not due to establishment’s ploys so much as its own archaic way of doing politics that’s disastrously out of step with today’s realities.

Salman Hassan is a NUST Mechanical Engineering alumnus with an interest in Strategic Studies, International Affairs, and Domestic Politics. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect GVS editorial policy.

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