Campaign trail: On the prowl with the ‘Lion of Punjab’

Confident of a simple majority in the upcoming polls, Nawaz Sharif says he won’t need to form a coalition...


Munizae Jahangir May 01, 2013
“Who says the young people are with another party, I see so many young people here, the youngsters are with me,” says Nawaz Sharif.

LAHORE/ OKARA:


A peacock spreads his feathers in the manicured lawns of the Raiwind estate, in Lahore. But this is not peacock territory, Raiwind is home to the ‘Lions of Punjab’, the Sharif brothers, who have governed the province for approximately 17 years and now have their sights firmly set on the premiership of the country itself.


Their prey is not proving to be an easy hunt. Facing them is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan, who has become the symbol of change for many of millions of young voters.

Nawaz Sharif is still leading in the polls, but only by a very slight margin. Inside the luxurious Raiwind estate, the twice former prime minister appears confident.

“Why would I have to make a coalition? I will win enough seats for a comfortable majority,” says Nawaz, when asked if he would prefer a coalition with the PTI or PPP.

Even in the middle of one of his toughest campaigns, Nawaz doesn’t miss a chance to take a swipe at his old arch-rival, Pervez Musharraf. “If I come to power, I will form a commission on Kargil and hold Musharraf and those who assisted him accountable. I believe the army wants to see Musharraf held accountable for all his misdeeds.”

But what of his new rival, the one who keeps challenging him to a live TV debate?

“For a TV debate one must maintain decorum and I am not interested in having a debate with someone who crosses the limits of decency.”

They may never come face to face on TV, but in the last two weeks, neither has missed an opportunity to slam the other in election rallies across Punjab.

And today Nawaz Sharif is headed to yet another jalsa in Okara which, in a telling indicator of the PPP’s strength, is known as ‘mini Larkana’.



At 5:30pm, a helicopter flies him from Raiwind to Okara, where a large crowd has been waiting for over four hours. Young boys hang from tree branches to get a glimpse of the ‘Sher’. But not everyone is there for fun, a few women from behind the security fence scream into the camera, “Will we get a chance to see him? We have no gas in our neighbourhood, can he fix it?” The lack of basic amenities in the last five years is squarely blamed on the federal government, even though under the 18th Amendment power has been devolved to the provinces.

However, this fact escapes his supporters, who along with Nawaz blame the federal government for all that went wrong. It seems that Nawaz wants to continue the family’s hold on Punjab, because earlier he confided that despite Shahbaz Sharif’s eagerness to head the water and power ministry, the party wants to see him continue to hold the post of chief minister.

On the podium, far out of the reach of supporters clutching their request letters, the ‘lion’ roared, “Who says the young people are with another party, I see so many young people here, the youngsters are with me.”

By 7pm, Nawaz is back in his helicopter on his way to Lahore. He looks down onto Punjab, where most of the provincial budget has been spent on infrastructure.

Punjab spent only 11% of its budget on education, compared to 39% in Sindh. The party is also not known for being female-friendly. In one of his rallies he gestured towards a crowd of women saying, “I will give you gas, so that you can make rotis for your husbands, your brothers and your sons.”

The PML-N’s manifesto though, paints a picture of a progressive party that is interested in equality. Yet when asked a serious question on what steps will be taken for the empowerment of women, Mian Sahab gives a blank look and responds ‘What do you suggest?”

His foreign policy is clearer. He says that he will consult the military, but will not allow them to hijack policy. “Final decisions on relations with Afghanistan and India will be taken by political leadership.”

As the sun sets and the helicopter lands in Lahore, it’s clear the battle for Punjab will be a tough one. But what will be tougher will be tackling national issues like economic instability, terrorism, the energy crisis and the Baloch insurgency. And it seems that the man who would be prime minister realises this.

(Watch Munizae Jehangir’s exclusive interview with Nawaz Sharif on Thursday at 7pm on Express News)

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2013.

COMMENTS (20)

FN | 8 years ago | Reply

EXCUSES, EXCUSES AND MORE EXCUSES

He's clever. He knows Imran Khan will wipe the floor with him. To let people know, Nawaz Sharif doesn't do any liver interviews too. Scared much? What has he got to hide?

A live debate is good for democracy, A step in the right direction.

Disappointed. Wanted to see a debate. As they say, truth will out, and he knows that.

hamza | 8 years ago | Reply

TWO WORDS : Tsunami terror

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