A few days back, an upcoming news channel broke the news that PML (N) is contemplating to boycott the forthcoming election if their envisaged demands are not met; no role of superintendence to Army for conduct of election, caretaker CM of Punjab be removed and disqualified individuals be also allowed to contest the election without let and hindrance however, news item was quickly rebuffed by PML (N) top circles. Shehbaz Sharif termed rumours of boycotting the election ridiculous and vowed to take case of PML (N) to masses in general election. Former Information Minister, Maryam Aurangzeb, also dismissed the news while stating that election is boycotted by those who have no performance to show. Despite their denial, speculations about boycott of the election by them continued to make rounds. Strangely, relatively less on mainstream media but more in social media/public with a distinct variant; Nawaz Sharif wants boycott of the election whereas, Shehbaz Sharif is opposed to the proposition.
Notwithstanding, media propensity to indulge itself in self-generated stories to dramatize situation or rat race of rating, there seems to be enough fire to cause smoke by their apprehensions of electoral dice crafted against them by obvious or subtle unfair means by its rivals directly or behind the scene forces indirectly in their favour. Generally a political party resorting to such extreme measure is sure of widespread public support and its persistence and a hardcore cadre within to undo electoral outcome emerged in a void so created. A big political party could also boycott the election to escape an impending electoral rout in order to avoid total loss of face on one pretext or the other. In the process, it would also try to discredit electoral exercise a farce to portray itself a victim party, denied of level-playing field, not a spent force thus, deserved to be treated with sympathy, esteem and consideration in the political arena.
From the time of his disqualification as PM of the country, Nawaz Sharif has presented himself a victim party, at the hands of an alliance of forces, opposed to his concept of real democracy and pursuits of national development and service. He has spared no rostrum or forum as well as vocabulary to make his case but failed to find genuine conviction domestically to an extent, capable of influencing events in the country, rather boomeranged to cost him even more; unyielding march on GT road/mass contact moves, partisan legislation, alleged failure to secure underhand deal, self-contradictory narrative, damaging orchestrated pronouncements in a bid to find international audience, dubious political associations and intimidating national institutions. Consequently, his ordeal continued to worsen more and more. With his conviction, it is at its grave worst. With PML (N) in government and effective management of perception, an impression was built and maintained that despite heavy odds, he and his party would triumph in general election, or at least would not trail behind by much difference.
With departure of PML (N) from power, assiduously built perception started crumbling quickly than imagined even by its detractors. With Nawaz Sharif staying off shore, there seems to be no steady hand on its tillers. PML (N) is certainly in disarray, marred with internal squabbling, defections, declining popularity graph, reluctance/refusal of its nominees to contest elections and absence of coherent electoral strategy. So far their national election campaign has not picked up the pace rather even started properly. The requirement was to jump start it to lift increasingly sagging spirit of the party. To the contrary, election campaign of its main rival, PTI led by Imran Khan is going up gear fast. Though PTI has stained its ideology of change while taking electable however, overall it has not dented its electoral prospects noticeably. Major chunk of its estranged/unhappy ideological cadre and sophisticated voters is still more likely to cast votes in its favour for sake of the country pragmatically. Raw and traditional voters rather, are more at home in company of electable.
PML (N) has hardly minced its words to spell out its strategy to redeem its disqualified leader Nawaz Sharif by wining huge margin in general election to effect legislation to undo alleged wrong perpetrated upon him by usurps of people’s will and approval. After his conviction by accountability court, whatever, Nawaz Sharif has vowed, implicitly implies the same but owing to drastic changes in national dynamics as highlighted above, electoral apple cart of PML (N) has been tipped greatly. Its votes in majority of constituencies in Punjab are increasingly becoming a losing vote. PML (N) may get a lot of votes in each constituency but these votes may not fetch it a seat. The slide is likely to continue particularly, absence of Nawaz Sharif. Vote bank of PML(N) belongs to him. It is just a matter of time when it has to face a difficult dilemma with narrow margin of decision to choose between fighting the election and risks its claim of still enjoying the overwhelming support of masses or boycott the election to avoid loss of face. This may give them a reason to protest/discredit the election a farce in an attempt to preserve its erstwhile public support and find the opportunity to make a comeback. Given conditions, letter is more likely.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.