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PML-N at a Crossroads

Has Nawaz Sharif’s tough anti-establishment rhetoric outlived its utility?

Nawaz Sharif has seemingly not exhausted his ire against the establishment. The PML-N supremo gave vent to his anger in a furious speech at the Karachi gathering of a rejuvenated Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) sans its estranged ally Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). After remaining dormant for over three months, the PDM has launched yet another protest campaign against what it calls an unconstitutional government to test the political waters after rumours circulating that the ruling party may go for early elections next year. This time they plan to march towards the capital to send the government packing.

Nawaz Sharif again blamed the undemocratic forces for the country’s downfall. He alleged that by sabotaging the country’s democratic system, a few individuals have occupied all the resources while the masses have been left to suffer in the clutches of rising inflation and unemployment.

However, the louder the former prime minister speaks against the establishment, the wider divide will be seen in his party. His narrative is not welcome in the ranks of PML-N who believe this could create hurdles for the party to come into power in the next elections.

Many leaders of the PML-N think that the repeated attacks on the establishment by Nawaz Sharif are losing worth with the passage of time.

“People don’t want to pay attention to the verbal attacks on the establishment”, one of the leaders remarked. “If Nawaz Sharif wants to fight against the system, he should come back home and start a country-wide agitation to bring down the hybrid regime.”

While Maryam Nawaz has lately been launching vicious attacks on PPP for reneging on the promises made at the platform of PDM, the recent phone call by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Shahbaz Sharif has raised many people’s eyebrows.

The very phone call showed that the young- er brother is acceptable and although it is reported that both the leaders discussed the candidates to fill the slots of members of Election Commission of Pakistan and an overall political situation.

Nevertheless, the contact between Bilawal and Shahbaz is being considered a very important development amid the rising acrimony between the two political parties. The PPP believes that the PTI government would have fallen if the PDM had decided to march towards Islamabad on the advice of the PPP as resignations was no solution.

However, Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, the PDM chief, has serious reservations against the PPP for ‘betrayal’ by the party at a time when the 11-party alliance had succeeded in putting a tremendous pressure on the establishment-backed PTI government. “The PPP tried to stab the PDM in the back,” he said during a press conference in Islamabad a few days ago.

Meanwhile, Maryam Nawaz has once again gone into silence for a while. Shahbaz Sharif will be dealing with PDM as the alliance resolves to march towards Islamabad for a final showdown. On the other hand, the PTI government gestures have hinted that Prime Minister Imran Khan may decide to hold early elections.

The anti-establishment narrative apart, now is the time for the PML-N supremo to decide who is going to lead the party in the backdrop of rumours about early elections. If early elections are indeed announced, the PTI will definitely benefit from the infighting within the PML-N.

On his part, Bilawal Bhutto is already in South Punjab in a bid to revive the party vote bank in that part of the province which had been a stronghold of the PPP lately. This area of South Punjab has not been in the priority list of the PML-N through the recent years which resulted in the formation of South Punjab Front comprising the electables that merged into PTI.

All the political parties including the ruling PTI are drawing new lines amid the rapidly changing political and regional developments in the Pakistan and Afghanistan that could lead to some major economic and security challenges for Pakistan in the days ahead.

The PML-N must wake up now and move ahead from the war of narratives. Nawaz Sharif will have to rise above his personal animosity and relinquish his role at least for now and let the party stalwarts devise a new political strategy in view of the country’s fast changing political scenario.

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