As formal trial begins in National Accountability Court against the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his children on the directions of Supreme Court of Pakistan, political temperature is heating up.
The main rival party of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has started calling for early elections — a demand that doesn’t have endorsement of other opposition parties. As the NAB court has started proceedings against Nawaz and finance minister Ishaq Dar, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court has reserved judgment against Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen, two key leaders of PTI. They are awaiting their political fate in cases for setting up offshore companies and not declaring them in their electoral record.
Amid confusion marring the unity in the ruling PML-N after Sharif’s disqualification and his unchanged harsh criticism of judiciary and military establishment even now, the opposition parties are trying hard to manage dissolution of assemblies in the coming weeks to further weaken the ruling PML-N which is likely to gain clear majority in Senate in the periodical elections scheduled in coming March.
There are fears of creation of a big group of sitting parliamentarians of the PML-N that might help the opposition parties in their design. This point has also been discussed seriously in recent high-level meeting of the ruling PML-N.
Though the opposition parties have agreed to help the PML-N in constitutional amendment for new electoral delimitations for the next general elections scheduled in mid 2018, there are fears the assemblies might not complete their due term and may be dissolved soon because of the predicted cracks within the ruling party.
“Currently, politics is marred by confusion. It seems the ruling party and its leader Sharif is in trouble. However, elections are the only solution to this crisis. Let the people decide who they want to rule,” says senior journalist Suhail Warraich. “Leaders can be ousted legally but not politically.”
He views the party “will ultimately have to go with the leader’s ideology because the vote bank of PML-N is of elder Sharif. Nawaz Sharif is trying to fight his political battle. Such battles are fought without fear of repercussions or even death. We have examples of Akbar Bugti and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who even lost the battle politically, became immortal and their rivals are cursed.”
Warraich says the establishment might be trying to orchestrate some alliances like in Karachi where they are trying to unite the divided Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) “but such alliances are never a substitute of major parties like the PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party”.
Meanwhile, religio-political and small political parties are eyeing new alliances including the till now inconclusive talks to revive Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of main religio-political parties. The alliance may not be revived fully but analysts think that to the extent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it may damage the ruling PTI.
Efforts are under way to knock down the ruling PML-N and oust disqualified elder Sharif completely from the power game which he is continuously resisting.
“The courts have double standards. The courts are not punishing me but they are being directed to punish me. My sentence is [like a] writing on the wall and press should mark my words,” he uttered in his recent statement outside the NAB court. After the hearing, he held a meeting of the party in which he decided to continue the politics of confrontation and expose the alleged plot to oust him, a stance which his younger brother suggests to soften.
“In the current situation, I think Nawaz Sharif should realise that it is a time of transition. The formal trial against him has begun. Elder Sharif may not come to power again because of his legally determined fate that has hurt his political career,” says political analyst Zahid Hussain. “Whatever the elder Sharif is doing is to keep his political legacy alive. But ultimately he might have to shift power to his younger brother to save his party.”
Hussain thinks that “most PML-N leaders and parliamentarians have entered a consensus to keep the political battle alive till they go in the next general election campaign”.
Hussain views that the possibility of early elections is very dim because “it is already the end of the year and the assemblies will be automatically dissolved on completion of their term by May 2018. There still are many things to be settled including new delimitations. Meanwhile, the opposition political parties will continue to exploit the current situation for their gains”.