Apparently, there is no serious threat of factions emerging in the ruling party at the moment and there are no defections so far, either. Yet, political analysts are predicting cracks in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after the Supreme Court ousted Nawaz Sharif for not being ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’.
The 23 less votes in electing the interim prime minister as compared to the votes Nawaz Sharif bagged in the National Assembly in 2013, delay in appointing the new cabinet, and talk of possible continuity of the interim prime minister for the next 10 months, analysts maintain, somewhat reflect the differences within the party.
It all probably began with Chaudhry Nisar who alleged that the party leadership is surrounded by flatterers, causing real damage to the party.
According to statements issued by senior party leaders, former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar was unable to have a one-on-one meeting with the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the last weeks of the Panama case. Nisar is reported to have said that he was never consulted or informed about the party’s political strategy.
Party insiders say some PML-N members in the parliament are in a wait-and-see situation.
“The challenges for the PML-N might increase in days to come with the proceedings of graft cases against the family,” says M. Ziauddin, senior journalist.
When many are predicting groupings within the PML-N before the next general elections in 2018, “Nawaz Sharif has to step down as the party president. The party will have to choose a new chief according to the laws applicable after disqualification and the party will have to elect a new president,” says Hamid Mir, a senior journalist. “Till the next general elections, Sharif will have to strongly fight for the party’s unity and popularity.”
Senior leaders of the PML-N, however, claim that they are loyal with their leader, dispelling the impressions of any rifts. “The party is united in accepting Nawaz Sharif as its leader and it will not split at any cost,” says Khawaja Saad Rafiq, a senior leader of PML-N.
He says the impressions of a rift are part of a propaganda campaign against the party.
Back in 2000, after the PML-N government was toppled in an army coup in 1999, the Sharif family went into exile once it was successful in striking an agreement with Pervez Musharraf. A significant majority of PML-N leaders left the party and joined Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam.
“I think a lot will depend on how Shahbaz Sharif acts from now on. Or to put it more precisely, it will depend on how Shahbaz is also implicated in cases and how these cases proceed,” says Asha’ar Rehman, senior journalist and Resident Editor Dawn. “The situation will change if none of the two Sharifs are available for the next election.”
Rehman says the general elections are only a few months away and that is a huge factor why the MNAs want to stay put, “No one would probably risk getting a bad name by putting together a government sustained by a forward bloc for so few months. In short, a forward bloc is not worth it.”
The PML-N emerged in the late 1980s after the demise of the then PML premier, Muhammad Khan Junejo, who came to power as a handpicked prime minister by military dictator Ziaul Haq.
Read also: Spotlight NA-120
When Ziaul Haq dismissed the Junejo government in 1987, the PML split in two factions. Junejo himself led his faction and after his death it was taken over by Hamid Nasir Chattha, who is currently in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, presently in the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, became the party’s Punjab President and Iqbal Ahmad Khan, Secretary-General.
The other group was led by Fida Mohammad Khan and Nawaz Sharif became its Secretary-General. This was the time when the PML had several factions. Pir Pagaro named his PML as Functional, Malik Muhammad Qasim had his own group called the Qasim faction. One of them was the PML Liaquat Group in Sindh. Yet another was formed by Mian Manzoor Wattoo as PML-Jinnah. This group later allied with the PPP in 1988 to form the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA).
Nawaz Sharif’s PML was part of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in 1988. After the dismissal of the Sharif rule in 1993, he strengthened his PML-N. The party remains the largest and most powerful faction of PML for the past two and a half decades.
The party suffered the setback in the mid-2000s. But at the end of General Pervez Musharraf’s regime in 2008, it bounced back strongly, gaining a clear majority in 2013 general elections, which made Nawaz Sharif prime minister for the third time.
Now the party is again facing a tough time as its head has been disqualified and his family faces corruption charges. And time will tell how the party shows its unity and power in the days to come.
“This is not 1993 or 1997 that cracks can be engineered in the party. It is very much intact and much stronger after this crisis,” says Tahir Mehdi, a political expert.
He believes the PML-N now represents the vested interest of the Punjabi civil elite and has emerged as a strong party with the passage of time. “There will be some anxiety at the moment but the party will overcome it, and will strengthen political and democratic process in Pakistan.”
Asha’ar Rehman believes dynasty binds the PML-N rather than divide it, “Take out dynasty and there will be nothing left. It is another matter altogether if the members of the Sharif family are visible or they run things from behind the thin veil.” He thinks protests can be held by the PML-N in the days to come to show its power.