GVS Analysis |
Ex-Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar claimed during a press conference that there are no forward blocks in the PML-N nor will there be any. He also added that there are no internal divisions within the party, rather what the different segments of the party have is a difference of opinion, akhtilaf-e-raye, as he put it.
His statements are synchronized with the position Maryam Nawaz had taken in a recent interview with the New York Times in which she referred to her uncle Shahbaz Sharif as her “hero”.
Political circles and media commentators believe that the PML-N leadership has of late, been trying to impart two different impressions.
Firstly that it has no internal rifts or forward blocks which are vulnerable to the external influence of rival political parties or elements of the establishment, that it stands united.
Secondly, the faction led by Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza and comprising of senior leaders Chaudhry Nisar, Rana Sanaullah, and the recent addition of firebrand Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, has successfully convinced the Nawaz camp to tone down anti-judiciary and anti-establishment rhetoric which had been adopted by certain elements in the party.
The PML-N rank and file are finding it difficult to defend the narrative which is being shaped from the top by Nisar and Maryam.
Pundits believe that this change in position is indicative of a new defensive PML-N strategy. The accountability proceedings against the Sharif Family are being warded off with delaying tactics like absentia, the goal being: to somehow delay the legal proceedings indefinitely. This would allow PML-N to sail through the current political storm to the Senate elections scheduled for March 2018.
Once the party is able to increase its strength in the Senate after the March 2018 elections, it will be in a strong position to mold the political landscape within which the military-judiciary establishment and the media are operating. The party strategists seem to believe that if PML-N retains some of its political significance after the Senate elections then the system which has turned against it will start behaving differently – and it will be possible to influence the judicial process.
They have reached the conclusion that if they are able to remain politically relevant they may be able to negotiate their way through the obstacles that have been erected against them by the establishment.
However, the PML-N rank and file are finding it difficult to defend the narrative which is being shaped from the top by Nisar and Maryam.
Rana Afzal, a PML-N MNA from Faisalabad, participated in a Dunya News TV program hosted by anchor Dr. Moeed Pirzada where he struggled to answer questions regarding the new stance of PML-N. When the maverick PML-N parliamentarian was queried regarding his opinion over who should inherit the mantle of the PML-N leadership, the choices being Shahbaz Sharif with his son Hamza and Maryam Nawaz, he dodged the question with a noncommittal reply.
While Hamza was building his political career, Maryam Nawaz spent her time in exile living with her father shielded from political exposure.
The confusion and hesitance of Rana Afzal is a symptom of the uncertainty plaguing the PML-N pecking order. Political commentators have now established that the conundrum of ‘who shall lead?’ is pivotal for the party and poses existential ramifications. Nisar’s attempt to label it as ‘akhtilaf-e-raye’ is being perceived as a tactic to pacify uneasy party workers.
Recent developments reveal that an increasing number of PML-N power players such as Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Pirzada have thrown their weight behind Shahbaz Sharif and his son instead of Maryam Nawaz.
This comes as no surprise since Shehbaz is well respected and perceived as competent across Punjab and his son Hamza who has been politically active within the country for the last seventeen years and has campaigned for more than thirty by-elections successfully. Hamza has also developed relationships with the local cadres of PML-N throughout Punjab.
While Hamza was building his political career, Maryam Nawaz spent her time in exile living with her father shielded from political exposure. Hence, she lacks the connections and respect of her cousin and now relies solely on her status as the daughter of Nawaz Sharif for political capital.
PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry, who was also participating in the discussion with Rana Afzal, was quick to exploit the latter’s confusion and pointed out that PML-N never had a culture where the public airing of differences in opinion was tolerated. He recounted how in the past five years there was never a hint of differing opinions on crucial matters such as foreign policy or the appointment of ministers. Even when the controversial amendment – which allowed the disqualified and indicted Nawaz to retain the presidency of the PML-N – was bulldozed through the parliament, none of the party members expressed reservations regarding the implications of such a drastic change to the constitution.
It is now apparent that the severe fault lines in the party regarding future leadership are not going to pass off as mere differences of opinion despite the efforts of Nisar and other senior leaders. It remains to be seen how PML-N rank and file react to the increasing uncertainty in the loyalty of key party members.