Nawaz Sharif & The End Game
It was the year 2008 when PML-N secured complete majority in Punjab and was in a position to form a coalition government with other smaller parties (and initially made one with PPP). However, they soon broke up from this government and assumed the role of opposition in the center. This was because Nawaz Sharif never intended to form a government back then. Why? Because he knew that whosoever formed the government would inherent some pretty uphill challenges.
The Musharraf government had left behind mega challenges such as power crisis, foreign policy failures, extremism and an economy on a decline. Nawaz knew that the government would fail miserably, fail pressure from the establishment and would have little or no support from the military influenced bureaucracy. He was instead looking for a strong majority government in 2013, when the challenges would not be as immense and the parliament would not be hung. This is exactly what happened and building on performance in the Punjab, PML-N swept the 2013 elections and PPP is still suffering from its 5 year tenure and is limited to Sindh. It is exactly the same situation that Pakistan is facing today and I believe that it is exactly the same decision that he would make now, eliminate the opposition by allowing it to face all the mega issues and eventually lose all its support.
The events before the elections are unfolding in a dramatic manner. There is a difference between the philosophy of NS and Shahbaz it has revealed. Meanwhile, all odds are going against the party. Sheikh Rasheed is clear to run for the election while Shahid Khaqan was disqualified on a property his father bought back in 1979. Danial Aziz is disqualified on contempt and Talal Chaudhry seems to suffer the same fate. Meanwhile, all the new PTI candidates are clear to contest the elections. Wherever the new PTI leaders who were “recently laundered clean from Bani Gala” go, they are met with “public support” while the ex PMLN leaders are met with “patriotic Pakistani citizens and their question”, are humiliated and videos are made viral on the internet.
The PML-N candidate against Ch. Nisar was arrested by NAB within 24 hours of receiving the party ticket. Punjab bureaucracy has been shuffled entirely, but the people considered close to Ch. Nisar has not been shuffled from Rawalpindi to date. Why this is happening and what led to this, is a completely different debate, but these events will surely affect the election campaign of PML-N and the elections themselves.
However, if we look at the issues the country might face sooner or later, the picture is horrifying. Our economy has nose-dived in the past 1 year and the dollar has hit a record high price. Investors have lost more than 1.5Billion PKR and are packing up from this country. In the past one month, oil prices have increased by 5%. A new power crisis has surfaced in the country.
We are heading to a major water crisis as well. All the areas in which work was done in the past government are at a standstill for the past 6 months. Punjab’s bureaucracy is facing the NAB courts and the officers seem to be on a silent strike from their work. These are areas of deep concern and gigantic tasks that the new government would have to face, ones that might cause severely poor performance from the new government if not catered to expertly.
Nawaz Sharif has, in a year, become the villain of Pakistan, once equally popular before the Panama Scandal. It seems that he might not be able to escape the wrath of the NAB courts, along with his family members. However, politically, he is still in a much stronger position. Despite all the errors made by the PML-N government, its performance was far better than that of PPP, something that cannot be brushed aside. As far as the elections are concerned, PML-N still holds power in its stronghold in Punjab and people do recognize the efforts made to eliminate power crisis and extremism. However, it seems Nawaz has decided not to form the next government and to sit in the opposition, despite pundits predicting PML-Ns victory on at least 85 to 90 National Assembly seats and even more. He might even lend a few “patriots” to PTI, if need be, and help them form the government. Why? Because he wants the PTI to face all the challenges and make the Naya Pakistan it intends to, which may prove too uphill a task for their new and somewhat inexperienced leadership. He wants to give Imran Khan the premiership and watch the “Naya Pakistan” being made with a hung parliament and major challenges at hand. Meanwhile, he would lead a very strong and stern opposition against PTI, especially from Punjab where he is highly likely to form the government, not allowing it to implement its policies. If he succeeds, Pakistan would suffer from this political clash. Portfolios would be given and taken from new ministers, Cabinet would be run from tweets, the economy would deteriorate further, foreign relations would be jeopardized, our loans would reach new heights and we would be in a total chaos. To sum up, if Nawaz decides to sit in the opposition despite the majority gained and allows the PTI to form the government with a hung parliament and PPP and PMLN in Sindh and Punjab and then leads a strong opposition, PTI government would be in a total chaos and would fail miserably just as PPP did. It would leave us with no other option other than PML-N and force us to release Nawaz from the jails if need be, and place him back on the throne. If that happens, all opposition from the country would wipe out and PML-N would be totally dominant. This would be a political masterstroke from Nawaz but dangerous for the delicate democracy.
However, this is a fragile plan in itself, since it would require serious party unification for the PML-N, a hung parliament in the center and opposition governments in Sindh and Punjab. It would also require a poor performance from the inexperienced PTI leadership and a strong opposition to dent it, just as it did with PMLN before. As far as now, this looks challenging for Nawaz but not impossible given the political dynamics of our country. PTI’s performance would be seriously undermined if it ends up with a government in only KPK and center, let alone a coalition one, and a hung parliament, especially when it has a relatively new and inexperienced leadership. This is the reason why PMLN would not lead any major demonstrations and movements against the disqualifications of its leaders, even if Ahsan Iqbal and Saad Rafique are to go next. It would use them as sympathy cards as well. It seems Nawaz is prepared to sit in the opposition.
This seems to be an implementable and an excellent political move from Nawaz. However, the country would be at stake and the challenges we face might worsen with a hung parliament and a weak government. Let us hope that whoever has a majority in the parliament after the elections, decides against sitting in the opposition, even if it is Nawaz because it would be the worst decision for the system and country.
Let us hope that if Imran Khan does form the government, he succeeds in making the Naya Pakistan, or something close to it. Because if his government fails, it would wipe out any possible opposition in Pakistan and would lead to total domination of a single party, the PML-N in Pakistan, which is dangerous for any democracy.