With the ‘home-coming’ rally of the disqualified prime minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from Islamabad to Lahore closely following the appointment of a huge cabinet by the newly inducted Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, being called ‘election cabinet’ by some, the political climate is certainly heating up. The PML-N is all set to show its political prowess ahead of the general elections, which many think may take place earlier than scheduled.
There are varying claims about Sharif’s reception on the GT Road. About the thousands who received him in his half-a-week long journey back home in Lahore after disqualification, it is suggested that they were still less than the number the party was expecting to be on the roads. Sharif, in his speeches, targeted the judiciary and military establishment (without naming it of course) for his ouster as the third-time elected prime minister. He referred time and again to the rather contested fact that no elected prime minister in the country was allowed to complete his tenure.
“We have to make sure the mandate of the people is respected in the future … we have to make sure no conspiracy against an elected prime minister succeeds in the future … we have to make sure nobody dares in the future to send an elected government home in a matter of seconds,” he repeatedly asserted.
Sharif’s speeches seemed to be preparing a ground for his political battle, giving a message to the military establishment that people still supported him and would not accept the derailing of his rule.
“The message is clear — the PML-N has not accepted the judgment of the Supreme Court. And through public rallies they want to show that their workers have not accepted the judgment either,” says senior journalist and columnist Nusrat Javeed. “He is trying to keep his party intact and to control the possible split till the next general elections.”
However, Javeed says Sharif will not opt for confrontation at the moment because his party is still ruling at the centre and his younger brother is the chief minister of Punjab. “Sharif will wait after this political show and see how the cases against him and his family move forward in the accountability courts. Till then, he has to show that he, his party and voters have been victimised.”
Some analysts believe that Sharif has clearly spoken against his ouster and how he has not accepted it. They think his confrontation can lead to his own arrest (for attacking the judiciary) or assassination or martial law in the country, while others think these options or eventualities are too extreme.
Opposition parties which hold that Sharif’s show of power was a complete flop still think that it was a clear defiance of the judgment of the apex court. “Sharif’s road show aims to derail the democratic system. He has launched a severe attack on the apex court but everybody knows that he and his family were given several months by the court to prove their innocence,” says senior leader of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Qamar Zaman Kaira talking to TNS. “This is clear contempt of court.”
Kaira says democracy for the Sharif family means personal rule and absolute power rather than civilian supremacy. “Civilian supremacy is to accept the verdict and leave the party office too. And if there is any conspiracy behind his ouster, he should inform the public about it rather than verbally attacking the apex court and other institutions,” he says.
Shafqat Mahmood of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) says Sharif’s remarks about the judiciary are a matter of serious concern. “It seems a third-time PM has mocked the constitution and institutions of the country, particularly judiciary and the armed forces of the country.”
Before his journey to Lahore, Sharif had decided the new PM Abbasi’s 47-memmber jumbo-size cabinet. The new setup, likely to continue for the next 10 months — till the completion of the term of the sitting government and announcement of the schedule for next general elections — is a mix of old and new faces, with more focus on targeting the strongholds of PML-N political opponents.
Loyalty and commitment has been weighed in while choosing the new cabinet, which is said to have been finalised by Sharif himself. The new cabinet consists of many members from the neglected areas of South Punjab, which had relatively small representation in the earlier cabinet. There are as many as 11 ministers in the new cabinet who come from to South Punjab.
It also includes members from districts which are the strongholds of PML-N’s political opponents. The new cabinet includes many faces that were on the frontline in defending Nawaz Sharif and verbally attacking his political opponents during the Panama case hearings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Political analysts take it as an ‘election cabinet’, to please the party ranks and members belonging to districts where opposition parties —PTI and PPP — have a strong vote bank like Multan, Lodhran, Rahim Yar Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan. In Lodhran, Kanju’s inclusion in the cabinet is to counter the PTI stalwart Jehangir Tareen; in DG Khan the induction of Leghari family and Kareem is to counter Khosa family and in Rahimyar Khan it aims to counter Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood, now a PPP leader and former governor.
“Ideally, for meaningful governance, the size of the cabinet should always be small. But practical politics has different realities and there are compulsions for the ruling parties,” says Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency).