ISLAMABAD: Not long ago, Maryam Nawaz was regarded as the scion of Sharif’s political dynasty. From media management for the ruling party and the federal government to matters of governance and politics, she would often have the last say.
Surrounded by her circle of admirers, many in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz saw in her a future heir to take the reins of the ruling party. Till the recent past, the former ‘first daughter’ wielded so much power and influence over her father that her advice often prevailed over others, and the elder Sharif would modify his decisions to suit the will of his daughter.
But things seem to have changed. The ouster of Nawaz Sharif from the house on Constitution Avenue has followed what many described as a ‘tragedy of errors’, and Maryam is shouldering the blame alongside her father. From developing hostility with state institutions to sidelining party loyalists and ignoring their advice, the deposed premier is believed to have given too much power to his daughter, which cost him a bit too dearly.
“She erred,” comments one of the top PML-N leaders. “In politics, the graver the mistake, the heavier the price.”
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Today, not only has Maryam lost much control over party affairs, she is even struggling to make her own presence felt as part of the PML-N’s mainstream leadership. The existing situation raises a question – will Maryam be able to regain her ‘lost glory?’
Party members expressed doubt.
Firstly, Maryam, her husband, brothers and father are faced with serious references initiated by the National Accountability Bureau on the directions of Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case. On the other hand, Shehbaz Sharif and his camp are not facing cases linked to the Panama Papers. Naturally, this has given them an edge with regard to any new power arrangement if Nawaz is convicted by the accountability court.
Secondly, Maryam is said to have played a frontline role in sidelining Shehbaz from the party’s core. That Shehbaz, an obvious choice for the premiership and party chief, was denied his ‘due share’ when the elder Sharif was disqualified, was because of Maryam’s opposition. This, party circles suggest, has placed the Punjab chief minister at daggers drawn with his niece. For years Shehbaz has been in power in Punjab, he has made his own following in the party and has acquired the role of a father-figure in the ranks of PML-N’s all-powerful Punjab chapter — unlike his elder brother, who kept the party’s rank-and-file and the general public at arm’s length and remained surrounded by a handful of his favourites. Many in the Nawaz camp see a possible transformation of the party in the image of Shehbaz – an arrangement that would not be very accommodating of a role for Maryam.
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Recently, in a bid to mend fences, Maryam went to visit her aggrieved uncle and cousin — Shehbaz and Hamza — and even publicised this meeting, but insiders said she received a cold shoulder from the father and son, who also avoided speaking publicly on their interaction.
Thirdly, Maryam mainly drew her powers from the mid-tier party leaders that generally comprised ‘paratroopers’ or new party entrants. Unlike Muhammad Zubair, Danyal Aziz, Talal Chaudhry and Marriyum Aurangzeb, who ‘religiously’ follow the guidelines and directions of Sharif’s daughter, seasoned leaders and Sharif’s loyalists regard Maryam as a ‘youngster’ in politics.
“Maryam was very young when the old party leaders joined hands with her father some thirty years ago. For them, Maryam is like a baby in the world of politics,” said constitutional expert and former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary Kanwar Dilshad.
“Maryam may expect a lot of submission and compliance from junior leaders in the party, but the likes of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Chaudhry Nisar, Mehtab Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Raja Zafarul Haq and other seasoned leaders do not take her seriously. That’s problematic, given that one of these men is the sitting PM,” he said.
“The senior leaders may be locked in mutual differences and disagreements with one another, but when it comes to Maryam, they share unanimity in their views — she’s not their leader.”
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Some party circles believe that till Shehbaz’s group takes over the party, Maryam still has some wiggle room to politically exercise her authority in the party, but with clipped wings.
“Shehbaz taking the helm is only possible if Nawaz is convicted by the accountability court,” says a PML-N lawmaker.
Political analyst Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi agrees with this observation. “If Nawaz is convicted by the accountability court and he backs Shehbaz as his successor, the transition would be easy. Otherwise, there will be confusion and we don’t know how far will Shehbaz be able to lead the party in defiance of Nawaz,” he says.
PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq says discussions on future leadership are irrelevant. “Nawaz is the only leader in PML-N and everybody knows that. Whether it’s Maryam or Shehbaz, PML-N only regards Mian Nawaz Sharif as their leader. Discussions over who would get what in the party in the present and the future are inappropriate and irrelevant.”