ISLAMABAD: Grappling with multifaceted challenges — including internal wrangling, hostility with state institutions, defections of its members and detention of its top leadership — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz goes into the general polls on Wednesday, probably the toughest electoral battle in its history.
Regardless of tall political narrative the PML-N stalwarts have been propagating in their respective election campaigns against the state institutions, seasoned party stalwarts admit in their informal interactions that all is not well within the party as far as today’s general elections are concerned.
Far removed from the big claims of ‘sweeping’ the general elections, the senior party ranks are bracing for any situation emerging after the general polls — including the possibility of sitting on the opposition benches in parliament in ‘worst case scenario’.
“There won’t be any time worse than the one we are presently in,” says a senior PML-N senator based in the federal capital, wishing not to be named, while referring to the conduct of general elections at a time when the PML-N is battling ‘existential’ challenges.
Party supremo and deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to surrender to the authorities and land in Adiala Jail came amid expectations that the move would sent ripples across the country’s political spectrum, attract public sympathy and boost the party’s vote bank in big way, according to the source.
However, things did not go as planned, the insider says.
“It’s been nearly two weeks since Mian sahib, his daughter and son-in-law are in jail but there’s no charged activity on the part of our party against their detentions — not even in the twin cities.”
On July 13, Sharif and Maryam were arrested by National Accountability Bureau team at Quaid-e-Azam International Airport Lahore on their return from London via Abu Dhabi. They are since been held in the jail.
Captain (retd) Safdar was arrested on July 8 and has been detained in the same prison as his wife, and father-in-law. All the three were convicted by an accountability court in the Avenfield Apartments reference on July 6.
In what came as a major shock, Sharif did not receive the ‘warm’ reception at the Lahore airport he was expecting. Raising eyebrows, his younger brother and party president Shehbaz Sharif as well as other top leaders — including Ayaz Sadiq, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Pervaiz Rashid and others — were conspicuous by their absence despite the fact that Sharif’s flight was delayed for three hours than the scheduled arrival time.
Shehbaz has since been under fire from senior party leaders for ’ditching’ the elder Sharif, party sources say.
The slack attitude shown by Shehbaz and his son Hamza, who was the campaign’s in-charge, floated an impression in the party ranks that Shehbaz and his aides deliberately ditched the elder Sharif to embarrass him in a bid to exert their control on the party ahead of polls and to mend fences with the security establishment, many in party believe.
Prior to this, Shehbaz ignited another controversy in the party during his visit to Karachi a few weeks ago where he suggested the formation of a national government with the inclusion of other political parties should PML-N comes into power.
The PML-N leaders see this move as an implied admittance of defeat—and to attract the support of political parties to deal with the mess the N-League is in.
Another factor that has apparently dented the PML-N’s vote bank involves the disqualification of its senior party stalwarts in the recent weeks.
Maryam was a candidate for the National Assembly’s seat from NA-127 (Lahore) before she was disqualified in the Avenfield Apartments reference.
Discussions with PML-N leaders suggest that even before her disqualification, Maryam was struggling to ensure sufficient vote bank in her home constituency which is why she decided not to contest Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Yasmin Rashid at NA-125 and preferred NA-127.
On July 21, Hanif Abbasi received a life term in jail from the Control of Narcotics Substances (CNS) court in the ephedrine quota case. He was contesting general elections from NA-60 Rawalpindi.
On June 28, Daniyal Aziz was convicted by the Supreme Court in the contempt of court case and he stood disqualified from contesting the general elections from NA-77 (Narowal).
On June 26, Raja Qamarul Islam was arrested by NAB in Saaf Paani Company case, a mega corruption scandal that involves the alleged embezzlement of billions of rupees and Islam is one of the main accused in the case. However, Islam is allowed to contest polls while being in jail from NA-59 (Rawalpindi).
The hostility with state institutions is explained to be another reason — why it all started.
PML-N Chairman Senator Raja Zafarul Haq, however, sounds optimistic about general polls.
“Challenging these polls may be, but the PML-N has seen worse during Musharraf’s era we managed to survive the hardest of all times.
“Once again, we will come out as triumphant. The people of Pakistan will show their complete trust on Mian Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N in the general elections to defeat those forces who want to sabotage the democratic evolution in Pakistan.”
Haq sounds less concerned in case his party does not win enough seats to secure majority. “We have been through thick and thin. The real political forces know how to overcome challenges.”