The PML-N, arguably the largest opposition party, is attempting to reassert itself before the next general elections. However, this is also exposing the fissures within the party leaders particularly Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz over who would be the prime ministerial candidate.
Maryam Nawaz had recently stated that she was not part of legislation that allowed an extension in the army chief’s tenure. Her stance was quickly rebuffed by Hamza Shehbaz who said there was no ambiguity and the decision was made by the party leadership, giving credence to report of differences within the Sharif family. Maryam Nawaz has claimed she and Hamza have a difference of opinion but Nawaz Sharif remains the party’s leader and is the one who takes the party forward.
The party’s strategy before the next elections remains unclear. Senior leader Khawaja Asif maintains that Nawaz Sharif has no intention of running as prime minister for the fourth time. According to him, anything can happen and if Maryam Nawaz has the ambition then others should accept it. In the unpredictable field of Pakistan’s politics, there is no doubt this is a possibility. Asif says if that should happen, Maryam Nawaz has the 2028 elections, if not the next one.
Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in London and is unlikely to return anytime soon, has been disqualified from the courts and cannot participate in the next polls. There is an ongoing tug-of-war within the party and speculations are rife if Nawaz will hand over the party’s reigns to Maryam. There is also keen interest over the recent party meetings where Maryam sits at centre, a place officially for the head and is said to be calling the shots.
Despite the ongoing conflicts, the party is unanimous that Nawaz Sharif will select the candidate from the PML-N for the next elections. It remains another question whether he/she will be accepted by all. Shehbaz Sharif seems undeterred and is preparing for the next elections. The opposition leader has shown leverage in negotiating with the government over the use of electronic voting machines. The next two years will highlight even more fissures before the next elections. It needs to be seen if the PML-N will retain its former glory which seems far-fetched given the party supremo has been pushed out of the political scene.