Libra vs Libra: the race is on

Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif may share a Zodiac sign and an age (almost) but will they share electoral glory too?


Fahd Husain December 17, 2017
PML-N says Shahbaz can counter Imran Khan's propaganda against the Sharif brothers. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

He is born on October 5th, 1952 and has been waiting for a long time to become the prime minister of Pakistan.

He is born on September 23rd, 1951 and has been waiting for a long time to become the prime minister of Pakistan.

The two Libra men may finally get a shot at their dream as 2017 begins to fade into the new election year. Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif may share a Zodiac sign and an age (almost) but will they share electoral glory too?

By most calculations, the PTI chairman is now the front runner in the prime ministerial race. He has successfully navigated the judicial minefield and come out stronger. Friday’s verdict has reinforced his image as the ‘Mr Clean’ of Pakistani politics and makes him stand out in an arena awash with muck. His party is in the ascendant and rapidly transforming into a magnetic force field for the famed electables. The stables at Bani Gala now look cozier than the ones in Raiwind and the horses are sniffing at the sweet gale blowing atop that mountainous residence.

Will Imran Khan finally be the chosen one? With the perceived tailwind from Rawalpindi injecting the desired momentum, Khan seems to have already hit the campaign trail to further demolish Nawaz Sharif’s image and paint Asif Zardari with the same brush. the PTI’s brain trust calculates that a massive seat haul in Punjab and K-P and a smattering from Sindh and Balochistan should take them to a comfortable number in order to make the government at the centre (with a coalition — a simple majority in the National Assembly may be a tall order for now).

But in the race for Elections 2018, it is not the PTI or its ideology that is the engine for tabdeeli — it is in fact the person, Imran Khan. It is him — unburdened by the baggage of Aleems, Tareens and their likes — who is the horse that is dragging the often unwieldy carriage of his party. In Elections 2013, it was the fresh and vibrant ideology of the newly resurgent party that got people starry eyed; in 2018 the jaded ideology — ripped to shreds by carpet bagging electables as they hoofed up to Bani Gala and ensconced themselves in the lap of the party leadership — has been replaced by the sheer cult of the leader.

But as certain clarity descends on Bani Gala, the situation is a tad more complicated back in Raiwind. The original plan was quite simple: Nawaz Sharif would lead the PML-N campaign for Elections 2018 and be the party candidate to become the prime minister for an unprecedented fourth time. In the meantime, Maryam Nawaz Sharif would have contested and won from a safe National Assembly seat and be inducted into an important and high-profile ministry. She would then have had a formal role in the running of the government and a steering role within the party. At some point she would have been handed over the baton by her father and the succession would have been complete.

Then Panama happened.

The complications today for the Sharifs appear thus: a) With Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, the party needs a new prime ministerial candidate for Elections 2018; b) While the party has not splintered as was hoped by the PTI and others, it is off-balance due to the absence of clarity in terms of leadership; c) Shehbaz Sharif appears to have evaded legal troubles after the shelving of the Hudaibiya case but the fate of Nawaz and Maryam will remain uncertain till the trial concludes latest by February 2018; d) Electables will keep getting restless if the uncertainty within the party is not resolved soon.

From within these current complexities emerges a probable solution called Shehbaz Sharif. He has the right lineage, the right experience, the right ‘doer’ track record and the right opportunity to carry forward the banner of the fallen king. Oh and yes, he’s relatively safe from a disqualification or a jail term (unless the Model Town case takes an unexpected turn). It is now looking more and more probable that if the PML-N wants a shot at taking on the Imran Khan juggernaut, it would have to put forward Shehbaz Sharif as its electoral leader.

But wait. Does not the vote bank belong to Nawaz?

The following assumptions present themselves for possible scenarios of who may encash this vote bank and how: 1) Nawaz Sharif is acquitted in the trial; 2) He is free to lead the campaign but remains disqualified to assume office; 3) He leads the campaign along with Shehbaz; 4) He will still need to anoint a prime ministerial candidate; 5) Anyone other than Shehbaz (Shahid Khaqan, etc) will not have the requisite traction in a straight fight against Imran.

The alternative scenario may run like this: 1) Nawaz Sharif is convicted and sentenced in the trial and therefore unable to actively lead the campaign; 2) No one else can lead the party in the campaign other than Shehbaz.

In either case, Shehbaz appears to be not just the best choice but the only choice to lead the PML-N into Elections 2018. If practical sense prevails inside Raiwind, we are looking at a straight electoral fight between the ‘experienced doer’ Shehbaz and the ‘clean change-maker’ Imran for the hearts and minds of the Pakistani voters.

Actually we could all do with a bit of positive excitement. A straight race between two Librans both of whom bring with them prospects of huge changes in Pakistan if they win adds colour to this drab landscape of ours. Yes, in the backdrop of this electrifying race will lurk the usual institutional and organisational suspects — yet for once the focus can shift to one good old electoral fight between two exciting candidates.

May the best Libran win.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2017.

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COMMENTS (1)

Muhammad Usman Ahmed | 3 years ago | Reply An interesting piece.
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