The by-election in the NA-120 constituency, which became vacant after the ousting of former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, may end up dividing the party from within.
There are some very realistic concerns that the infighting among the immediate Sharif family regarding who has the credibility and legitimacy to sit at the top, may have deepened differences to a level that it has become a zero sum game for the next generation of the party’s leadership.
Nisar Ali Khan, former interior minister and an old ideologue of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, during a recent interview said that he doesn’t recognise Maryam Nawaz as his leader or the next chairman of the party. Nisar has long been considered a close ally of Shahbaz Sharif while he is not known as having good working relations with the founding chief of the party, Nawaz Sharif. Among the party circles, it has been recognised that the rift among old party workers and newcomers who have not contributed much to the party’s struggle when It was sidelined during the Mushraf era, has not only impacted the overall policy initiatives of the ruling party but has also left the organisation in doldrums regarding the future of the political unit.
So far, from the outset, all talks related to differences within the party are being maneuvered as part of the larger propaganda to divide the party from inside. Two things are important here: One, there has been an effort to weaken the party by forcing it to fall on its own weight which stems from mass corruption and bad governance that has remained rampant during the last four years. Second, the party itself has made the job easier for the planners: for more than two years, all efforts on the opposition’s part were not taken seriously and reactionary attitudes that rejected all sorts of allegations and legitimate pressures were simply brushed aside. Along came the Panama leaks scandal and divisions within the party came out in the public. The chief of the party couldn’t keep lid on apprehensions that were surfacing his left and right and when the differences were rekindled from inside the Sharif house, its wider reach was inevitable. With his departure from the helm of affairs, all cover-up fell flat. Now apparently, the government is just working on the shoulders of the country’s deep bureaucracy while a string of ministers and plethora of port folios are put in place for appeasement and consolidate roots of what stands as a hollow structure that happens to be on the driving seat of the country.
The first challenge that is going to test or perhaps is already testing the depth of divisions within the party is the NA-120 by-election. While the election has a significance in electoral and political contest, it’s going to go a long way in offering an assessment regarding how the current ruling party will context the next general elections. Apparently, the Shahbaz faction appears to have gone on the sidelines and given the space to Nawaz’s daughter, for she has become the key person whose name is creating frictions inside the party.
The important question is: why offer the entire arena to Maryam when she has no in field experience when it comes to managing constituencies and local politics? There are two reasons that explain this outcome. One, perhaps the divisions have gone to a level where the opposing faction within the Sharif family who disapproves Maraym’s leading role, wants her to test the actual politicking beyond social media. So far, Maryam has not actively worked for the party and perhaps that is one of the core reasons which has generated opposition among the party’s inner circle. For her, winning the current poll with a mss margin will not only offer some sort of redemption for the party but will also set a platform for her own credibility. Second, the tricky area that Maryam should be concerned about is that if there is an active opposition within the party to neglect or undermine her role, it’s going to be visible in NA-120 polls results. While the whole organisation may agree to an extent that it would be embarrassing for the party to losr the seat and that too from a constituency which is considered their stronghold, Maryam’s opposition wouldn’t mind a win for the PML-N that doesn’t generate a mass lead in comparison to other parties. Even a win with a small margin can be used to undermine her role and name which is being considered for the party’s headship when the leadership moves to the second generation.
From here onward, the future of the party as one unit appears bleak, for its going to be all about frictions rather than reconciliation within the PML-N.