As the country braces for fresh parliamentary polls later this year, former premier Nawaz Sharif has decided to break open his bag of tricks from his glory days.
According to his associates, Nawaz plans to form an alliance of right-wing and nationalist political parties similar to the one that won him the elections in 1990, in an apparent bid to revive the two-party system.
But the difference between the alliance Nawaz has in mind and the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) of the ‘90’s is that the secret support he then had from the country’s premier spy agency will not be available now.
It was before the general elections in 1990 that Nawaz managed to gather all religious parties under the banner of IJI to contest against slain chairperson Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Benazir Bhutto.
Nawaz ultimately became the prime minister but it later emerged that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) helped him manipulate the political chessboard not only with money but also with covert support in persuading political groups to join him. A little over two decades down the line, the leader from Punjab has turned himself into a symbol of anti-establishment through his stern and persistent opposition to ISI’s political role, but his inclination towards the rightwing is still there.
“Mian Sahib wants to repeat history but in a different way … and he strongly believe his stature as a national leader can help him achieve that,” said a top leader of Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).
A couple of other associates also confirmed that the former premier had expressed his desire to form an electoral alliance to revive the two-party system that was the hallmark of Pakistan’s politics in the 90s.
“He thinks if there are two strong parties or alliances in the country, the small groups which the establishment maneuvers politics through will evaporate or become part of the political mainstream,” another PML-N leader said.
None of them, however, admitted that the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) as a so-called alternative ‘third force’ had forced this thinking on Nawaz, who was not keen on having other parties on his side until late last year.
“This can be one of the factors but not the only one,” remarked one of the close associates of Nawaz when asked whether this urgency was due to Imran’s rising popularity.
According to an initial in-house assessment by an inner circle of the PML-N, the main opposition party would not push other groups for a merger but instead focus on convincing them to become part of the electoral alliance.
“It won’t be like other parties will lose their individual identities … they will continue to have their basic structure but contest elections under a broader framework of the alliance,” said an associate of the former premier.
The PML-N, its leaders said, had started contacted some groups including the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), its breakaway faction known as PML-likeminded, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and other nationalist groups from Sindh and Balochistan.
Except for the PML-Q, with whom Nawaz’s party was in touch through the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), the former premier was reaching out the leadership of the parties himself, explaining to them his idea of forging a strong alliance.
The PML-N leader said a structure of the new alliance would soon be emerging.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2012.