The country’s major political parties are fighting legal and political battles for their survival. Their battles are crystallised in the NA-120 by-poll which has gained symbolic importance on the political canvas.
All three main parties — PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz), PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), and PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) — are making efforts to stay internally united and publicly strong in the wake of the next general elections, scheduled for 2018. Alongside, the leaders of these parties are also fighting battles in courts to wash the alleged stains of corruption and to level them against their opponents.
Many link the political strength of these party leaders to their clearance from court cases, which seems difficult at the moment. The Supreme Court, in a final order of the court, had disqualified the then prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif from public office on July 28 and ordered to move graft cases against Sharif and family in the accountability courts, which have recently been filed in due course of time specified by the apex court. Instead of appearing before the National Accountability Bureau for preliminary hearings, Sharif and family have moved review petitions before the SC. Analysts think the relief to Sharif family is unlikely.
Meanwhile, the fate of Imran Khan, the PTI chief and key opponent of Sharif and his party, is also tied in three major cases being heard by the apex court these days. He is under scrutiny after he consistently moved court against Sharif for his name in Panama Papers.
Till now, Khan and his party have been unable to fully satisfy the SC and the Election Commission of Pakistan regarding the authenticity and legality of the record related to these three cases. His party terms the cases politically motivated to put him under pressure.
In another case of foreign funding of Imran’s party from undisclosed sources, the ECP has given him a last chance to provide complete and authentic record by September 18.
Also, Asif Ali Zardari, former president and co-chairman PPP faces an appeal by the NAB court in a high court for his recent acquittal in a case of concealing his properties. Zardari faced six corruption references and has been acquitted in all of them.
Analysts hold that in Punjab which is 53 per cent of total population, the real contest is between the PML-N and the PTI, while the PPP is out of the race. While the PML-N is facing a political crisis after its
leader’s disqualification, the sword of disqualification is also hanging on Khan in near future.
“The PTI is also facing challenges in the courts and if Khan is disqualified it will damage the PTI like the PML-N,” observes Rasul Bakhsh Rais, noted political analyst. “But despite all these challenges, the real contest is between these two parties — the PML-N and PTI. Both parties will continue to harass each other and debate on the credibility and character of each other. Eventually, the people will determine their popularity and political fate.”
All the political parties are taking NA-120 by-poll as a ‘test case’ of their popularity after Sharif’s disqualification from the apex court. Many political pundits and the PML-N insiders believe that the real test of PML-N is not a likely victory in NA-120 election but the cracks in the party. Some believe if Kalsoom wins NA-120 election, she might be the next president of the PML-N and it will not be strange if she is proposed for holding the PM office in days to come.
The margin of victory in NA-120 will further determine the fate of PML-N in the Punjab, possibly leading to further rifts within the party. The cracks within the PML-N were quite visible in a recent interview of former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is the senior most leader of the party after elder Sharif. He objected to the leadership of Maryam Nawaz, suggesting that if Shahbaz is not made the president of the party, there is a possibility of further cracks within the PML-N.
“We can see a split within the party which is not formal and is yet quite visible. Even in the NA-120 campaign, Sharif’s daughter is running a solo campaign and no senior leadership from the family is on the scene,” says Rais.