'Vote ko izzat do’ not anti-establishment rhetoric: Shehbaz

Denies claiming he was the apple of the establishment's eyes

RAMEEZ KHAN October 06, 2023
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif addressing the media in Lahore on Friday, October 6, 2023. SCREENGRAB


PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif has clarified that the party’s “vote ko izzat do” (respect the vote) slogan was not intended to be anti-establishment, but rather focused on serving the people and improving the lives of those living below the poverty line.

In a news conference held at the party's central secretariat on Friday, Shehbaz deftly avoided answering any questions about holding the outgoing generals, whom the party has long accused of overthrowing their government, accountable.

The timing of the news conference held just before the anticipated return of party supremo Nawaz Sharif seemed strategic. It appeared to be an attempt to give electronic media screens a steady dose of visuals to portray the party as being in high gear prior to Nawaz’s arrival.

However, the portrayal does not seem to align with the reality on the ground. Contrary to the party’s efforts to create a sense of momentum, the city, which is considered a stronghold of the PML-N, remained largely nonchalant.

Despite PML-N Chief Organiser Maryam Nawaz's attempt to gather supporters in a rally in Shahdara, it was eventually transformed into a corner meeting due to a low turnout. Furthermore, during Shehbaz’s whirlwind tour in his own constituency, the party has failed to flex its muscle.

The news conference held on Friday was yet another attempt by the party president to shift the blame of his government’s sixteen-month-long dismal performance, which resulted in skyrocketing inflation, and attribute it to predecessors.

‘Didn't say I was establishment’s darling’

However, the most notable aspect of the press conference was an attempt to evade questions regarding the current and departing establishment.

Nonetheless, he emphatically denied the impression of having stated that he was the apple of the establishment’s eyes, saying his interaction with the anchor was broadly misreported.

The PML-N leader further stated that he had endured imprisonment from Attack to Adiala and was subsequently sent into exile with Nawaz Sharif, questioning how he could possibly be the apple of their eyes.

When asked about holding those responsible for curtailing Nawaz Sharif's tenure accountable, he chose not to address those questions directly. Instead, he reiterated that Nawaz was focused on resolving economic challenges, creating jobs, and ending the country's dependence on aid to transform its destiny to change its fate.

He stressed anti-establishment narrative does not provide jobs, end poverty or end hunger.

Read Nawaz still has ‘residual angina symptoms’

Moreover, in response to a question about the responsibility of holding the outgoing COAS responsible for his alleged wealth, he stated that it wasn't his duty to hold anyone accountable and that it was the job of the NAB.

When asked who would shut the door of interference since politicians happily lend their shoulders to the establishment when push comes to shove, and mentioning when he ran to London to dissuade his brother from naming five individuals, including two generals, Shehbaz jokingly objected to the use of the word "running," stating that he had actually flown to London.

He asserted the way to end this road of interference was a charter of democracy.

Responding to a query about PTI Chief Imran Khan leading the poll surveys, Shehbaz stated that although we were in the lead during the surveys conducted in 2018, the elections were later tampered with. However, he expressed his belief that the upcoming elections will provide the true answer regarding popularity.

Bizarrely, Shehbaz outright rejected any knowledge of Imran Riaz Khan, a prominent journalist and vlogger who had mysteriously disappeared for four months while he was in office. Despite Imran recently returning home in a weak and traumatised condition, he denied having any awareness.

Instead, the PML-N leader redirected the questioner, who was a well-known anchor himself, to a time when he and his brother Nawaz Sharif were also held at an undisclosed place, their families unaware of their whereabouts.

To a question about forced news conferences and interviews, the former prime minister said he was not in favour of them. A journalist inquired whether Nawaz Sharif was planning to visit Saudi Arabia to secure a relief package by leveraging his connections with China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to attract investments to Pakistan. he responded that it was better to refrain from speculating but explained that the former intended to perform Umrah during his stay.

He emphasised that Nawaz preferred attracting investments rather than acquiring loans.

Former PM Shehbaz Sharif also said the party’s legal team had cleared the path for the return of his elder brother who had been residing in London in self-imposed exile since 2019, to the country on October 21.

“I want to respectfully say that you [the media] shouldn’t ask if he [Nawaz] is coming or not. It is confirmed now,” he added while addressing a news conference at the PML-N Secretariat in Model Town, Lahore.

He was accompanied by party leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique, Malik Saiful Malook Khokhar, Khawaja Imran Nazeer, and Marriyum Aurangzeb.

Shehbaz maintained that Nawaz, the PML-N supremo, would face the law and Constitution after his return to the country.

Nawaz had left the country for London in the middle of his seven-year jail term on medical grounds. He was later declared a proclaimed offender in the Avenfield and Al Aziza corruption cases for his continuous absence from legal proceedings.

Earlier in the day, a fresh medical report was submitted to the Lahore High Court stating that the PML-N supremo would require "frequent follow-up investigations" for "some residual anginal symptoms" in London and Pakistan.

The PML-N president began his news conference by speaking about the 16-month tenure of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government led by his party and recalled the challenges faced during his time in the premier's office.

He referred to floods, inflation, protests and the risk of default that his government had faced.

“What would have happened if Pakistan had defaulted?” he asked, outlining the “consequential impacts” of such a situation.

Read more PML-N snubs talk of Nawaz’s return delay

“However, the Almighty helped us avert default and I am thankful to Nawaz for standing by us," Shehbaz added. The former premier further said that if Nawaz had instructed the PML-N leaders to save their politics, he would have resigned.

“He [Nawaz] told us to take up the challenge and save the country instead,” he maintained. Shehbaz, who was all praises for his performance, said if they say they were successful on all fronts that would not be right.

However, he continued that the journey of prosperity would resume with Nawaz's return. He added that the PML-N supremo would share his plan for the country's future at Minar-e-Pakistan on October 21.

Also, in valedictory remarks to media in London, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif recently expressed his displeasure towards Pakistani protestors outside his homes and offices in the UK where he has been residing for four years, and questioned the purpose of their actions and the benefits they yielded.

In an informal meeting with journalists in London before his imminent return to Pakistan, the former prime minister thanked media representatives for their coverage during his stay in London, regardless of whether it favoured or criticised him.

He emphasised the vital role of journalism in society, asserting the significance of public opinion and urging journalists to refrain from indulging in gossip and slander.

He encouraged critics to focus on constructive criticism for the sake of reform rather than simply criticising for the sake of it.

The PML-N leader also condemned the recent incidents in London, where other women from his party, including Marriyum Aurangzeb, were subjected to unwarranted scrutiny, calling such acts inappropriate and unnecessary.

He questioned the benefits Pakistani protestors gained from their demonstrations over the past four years in the UK and advised them to redirect their efforts towards protesting within Pakistan. “Go home and do protests there.”

"This is my last day in office," he said, signalling his readiness to leave the UK and return to his homeland.

His departure from London marks the conclusion of his four-year stay in London on medical grounds. It signifies a potential resurgence in his political career as party leaders back home gear up to welcome him to steer the election campaign.

Nawaz plans to return to Pakistan on October 21. Party leaders have said he will secure protective bail and then surrender to courts after attending a reception in his honour.


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