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News Analysis |
The result of NA-120 by-elections was as expected. Kulsoom Nawaz won. But PML-N leaders have little cause to celebrate.
 
Yes, a win is a win. But consider: The battle of NA-120 was for the proverbial heart of the party.

One thing seems certain for now, the threatening sword of Damocles over Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi’s head is weaker and unless for some extraordinary event, he is likely to continue to be the PML-N Prime minister until the next elections

The constituency in which Nawaz spent his childhood days playing cricket, where he went to school. His very home was under siege. Losing would have meant political death. Nawaz has won NA-120 five times, always with massive margins. Compared to his last victory with a difference of 40,000 from the second candidate, Dr. Yasmeen Rashid, this paltry thirteen thousand vote lead is a cause for alarm for the party.
 
After an intense campaign, with the complete support of Punjab’s bureaucratic machinery, a multitude of incentives to locals assuring them of the benefits of voting Nawaz (government jobs and development works), a win by a mere thirteen thousand vote lead constitutes as a strategic defeat.

Read more: NA: 120 – PMLN’s Strategic Defeat & Implications

Points that require pondering:

Fault lines in the family and party
 
The rift between the families of Nawaz and Shehbaz is no secret. Hamza Shehbaz, a skilled campaigner, was nowhere to be seen in or around NA-120 for the crucial race. Insiders report that Maryam considers Hamza a threat to her status of “heir-apparent” and sidelined him from campaigning affairs. Analysts partly attribute the poor results to his absence. Previously he has always played an active role in Punjab elections and is known for his successful electioneering. 
He left the country or was told ‘he was not welcomed to play a role in the campaign’, on August 22 for London.
 

The implications of her failure may not materialize immediately. But as the 2018 general elections draw closer, Maryam may face increasing resistance to her claim to the PML-N throne

The feud between the two cousins is the tip of the iceberg. Backing both are rival factions, the Shehbaz and Nawaz groups. GVS analysis team along with many other prominent pundits had stated previously that this poll would decide Maryam’s future as a leader. All groups and subgroups within the PML-N were observing Maryam’s efforts to ascertain whether she had what it takes. Despite the tremulous and forced smiles of all behind Maryam Nawaz yesterday on the victory speech of NA 120. It was clear all was not well for her.

Read more: Real stakes in NA-120: Maryam Nawaz’s future in peril..?

Ch. Nisar has made many subtle remarks reflecting his disappointment over the wisdom of the then PM Nawaz Sharif’s ‘new’ advisors. He recently on a TV program even referred to Maryam Nawaz as a ‘child’. Her arguments and statements on Twitter have made many senior politicians in the PML-N uneasy as well as her ‘alleged’ role in the Dawn Leaks affair last year.
 
Many in the party believe that Shehbaz is the logical choice for replacing Nawaz. He has done a tremendous amount of work in Punjab, is seen to be experienced in governance and is respected as well as being close to the establishment. However, in the past the younger brother always acquiesced to Nawaz as custom required, presenting a united front.
 
Being the keystone player of Punjab, it is natural for Shehbaz and his followers to expect, in the aftermath of Nawaz’s dismissal, that it is now their turn to bask in the limelight.

Being the keystone player of Punjab, it is natural for Shehbaz and his followers to expect, in the aftermath of Nawaz’s dismissal, that it is now their turn to bask in the limelight

 
But opposing Shehbaz’s ambitions is his own niece, Maryam. To assert his right to rule would be to come in direct conflict with the aspirations of his older brother’s political heir. Who is threatened that the delay in getting the leadership mantle, may bring in her cousin, Hamza Sharif, in turn as the leader in the future?
 
The question now is whether the poor performance in NA-120 will bring about a more assertive Shehbaz? Is a direct conflict brewing?
 
Maryam’s future
 
Maryam needed a glorious victory, reminiscent of her father’s in 2013 to convince the skeptics. Bare survival was all she could muster. She campaigned vigorously in Lahore in her mother’s absence trying to elicit a sympathy vote for PML-N, both for her mother and for the disqualification of her father as PM, after the Panama verdict in the Supreme Court against him. 
To win she did not refrain from attacking the Supreme Court and clearly implied that the military establishment was behind the court’s decision to declare him unfit for office.
 
The implications of her failure may not materialize immediately. But as the 2018 general elections draw closer, Maryam may face increasing resistance to her claim to the PML-N throne.
 
Currently, she still has a formidable posse of ministers and advisors flanking her.  That may change if the NAB cases indicting her and the family start. Proceedings are set to begin on 19th September, a day after the publishing of this piece.
 

Insiders report that Maryam considers Hamza a threat to her status of “heir-apparent” and sidelined him from campaigning affairs. Analysts partly attribute the poor results to his absence

Maryam’s victory speech laid bare her attitude towards the Judiciary and military establishment, a strategy that is expected to continue towards the 2018 election. Ironic for the leadership of a party that is known to be a creation of the army structure in the 1980’s. It is an approach that not all in the PML-N agree to and this in itself is creating friction within the party. It is believed that Maryam appears adamant on keeping alive the mindset which propelled her father’s downfall.
 
Her confrontational stance is a tactic to illicit inflamed emotion from PML-N’s base. However, the low turnout during the GT road rally has already shown this strategy to be unsuccessful. A fact acknowledged within the party.
 
Continuing down this road is plain folly. The question is: will the veterans within the party stand aside and watch the heir-apparent throw away the empire they’ve built? One thing seems certain for now, the threatening sword of Damocles over Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi’s head is weaker and unless for some extraordinary event, he is likely to continue to be the PML-N Prime minister until the next elections.

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