Doves And Hawks In PML-N Seek A Level Playing Field In Elections, Differently

May 18, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — Pressure is mounting on top leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party to restrain anti-establishment posture in order to get a level playing field for the party in the next elections due in few months.

From within its own ranks, a powerful group in the largest right-wing party is trying to open backchannel contacts with powers that be for a level playing field amid reports that the space is being filled by PML-N’s arch rivals in Punjab — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the “independents”.

The move comes as deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif intensifies his public rhetoric against the military and the judiciary with several recent election rallies held in Punjab — his and PML-N’s bastion of power — accusing “khalai makhluqen” (invisible forces) of attempting to engineer and manage country’s politics.

PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday responded to Nawaz’s latest statements accusing him of being in cahoots with the establishment for the past 30 years.

While addressing an Iftar dinner in Lahore, the former president criticized some politicians for deceiving their country in the quest for power.

“The country must always come first,” Zardari said. “They are not ready to be loyal to their own country in the quest for power.”

Sources in the ruling PML-N told local daily The Express Tribune that an overwhelming majority in the party feels that Sharif’s current policy of confrontation would be deleterious as countrywide election nears and they may become victim of “incumbency factor” as was the case with PPP which ruled for 5 years (2008-2013) prior to PML-N coming to power in 2013.

PPP and several other progressive forces then had blamed lack of level playing field for losing majority in the elections to the right-wing PML-N.

More and more in the ruling camp, including ministers and electables, are joining the voices that oppose confrontational politics and fear “incumbency factor”, lack of level playing field creeping in.

“We are marking efforts for reconciliation [between Sharifs and the powers that be]… at least we should be getting level playing field [in the upcoming elections]”, a cabinet member said.

Already going through wear and tear, the ruling PML-N is facing defections in bulk during the past few weeks.

While many sitting members of the National and provincial assembly have already left the party, some others are sitting on the fence, ready to jump the ship if the party continued to pursue the policy of confronting state institutions.

Two sitting PML-N MNAs from Punjab –Ghulam Bibi Bharwana and Sahibzada Muhammad Nazir Sultan — along with half a dozen former members of the Punjab Assembly joined the PTI on Thursday.

Earlier, a dozen of them from southern Punjab joined PTI.

The ruling party subsequently had an unusual huddle of its parliamentary party in the Parliament House earlier Thursday morning.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who was recently elected president of the party after the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz, his elder bother from holding the party office, chaired the meeting.

Younger Sharif is considered a moderate voice within the party when it comes to having working relations with other important institutions.

Sources said during Thursday’s parliamentary party’s huddle, party lawmakers expressed their serious reservations over the confrontational politics of elder Sharif and requested Shahbaz to intervene to save the party.

Media reports say younger Sharif and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Wednesday made yet another aborted attempt to convince Nawaz Sharif to soften his stance.

However, PML-N’s information secretary and Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan – a close aide of Nawaz, when asked if Mr Sharif would soften his stance on state institutions at the request of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, the minister said: “Mr Sharif has already made it clear what the party’s narrative is…. He and his party want that other institutions should not be involved in politics and should let the politicians do their job.

“Those who think that Shahbaz will introduce some other narrative than Nawaz are living in a fool’s paradise,” said Mushahidullah according to Dawn. He said both brothers are on the same page, report ET.

Some senior leaders have already disassociated themselves from the policy being pursued by the hawkish group led by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam.

Chaudhry Nisar, once considered among the core group of the Sharifs, has been publicly critical of their stance being tagged in media as “party narrative”.

Nisar was in parliament but abstained from taking part in the parliamentary party meeting, even when it was being chaired by Shahbaz — and not Nawaz.

“Among the remaining top leaders, including some key cabinet members, the majority does not support this narrative,” a lawmaker remarked.

“Don’t you see that we are struggling to pass the Finance Bill. This in a way is a no confidence on the party’s politics, though we have no issues with Prime Minister Abbasi,” he added.

After Nisar’s current disassociation from the party affairs, another strong group within the party is now working on two fronts — trying to assuage the party’s top leadership on the one hand, and trying to open backdoor channels for a possible reconciliation, at least to get some level playing field in the upcoming polls, on the other.

Some politicos believe PTI and PPP are positioning themselves well for “change”, while PML-N — a force to reckon with in Punjab, is on the defensive despite hosts of “economic achievements” to brag about.

At the end, electables’ “swing” counts not “swing votes” nor the “silent majority”, one observer said.

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