Disarray in the PML-N and return of Maryam | By Dr Imran Khalid


Disarray in the PML-N and return of Maryam

SO, finally Maryam Nawaz is returning back, probably in a bid to re-launch and revive the anti-establishment and anti-judiciary narrative – a storyline which has already been hijacked by Imran Khan.

For a party, which is facing a deep crisis of narrative, such an attempt is not unusual. But it all depends upon the quantum of power shown at her arrival.

Will the PML-N, an increasingly divided and demoralized party, be able to hold a “grand welcome reception” for Maryam? Factually speaking, the PML-N camp does not seem to be confident enough on this matter.

With PPP discreetly trying to woo electables in Southern Punjab and Balochistan, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf keeping its target audience continuously engaged through its political gimmicks, Pakistan Muslim League-N appears to be in complete disarray.

Ever since the current political crisis was kicked off in February last year, the PML-N has been facing a pathological erosion of its influence along with gradual weakening of its organizational network at the grass-root level.

The Punjab Assembly saga has blatantly exposed this disarray and decay in the PML-N. A strange kind of idiosyncrasy and purposelessness has enveloped the PML-N leadership, which has been reduced to a dispirited and ineffectual club of oldies.

The shocking trounce of the PML-N in the Punjab Assembly, owing to the deep fissures within the Sharif family, must have come as a bitter reality-check for the party elders who have been squabbling to define the contours of the power centres within the party for the last one year.

The power struggle between Hamza Shahbaz and Maryam Nawaz is taking its toll on the overall facade of the PML-N.

In view of the track record, it is expected that, instead of learning any lesson from their mistakes and realigning their ranks to find a workable formula to steer the party out of the existing quagmire of despondency, both –unofficial- factions of the PML-N would inversely intensify their drift through blame-game and finger-pointing.

There are three major dilemmas with the PML-N. One, the party has not yet been able to understand and acclimatize itself with the implications of the rise of social media on politics in last one decade.

Two, the party has never tried to learn from the past mistakes and to unlearn the threadbare and outdated methodology of power politics that has drastically morphed due to the changing socio-economic paradigms across the globe.

And three, the party has not been able to devise a counter-narrative to out compete Imran Khan’s narratives.

Media is rife with rumours about intense dissonance between Mian Nawaz Sharif and PM Shehbaz Sharif on almost every key issue – including the continuation of Ishaq Dar as Finance Minister, handling of flailing economy, distribution of power within the party structure as well its re-engagement with the party’s support base.

The absence of Hamza Shahbaz during the vote of confidence vote in the Punjab Assembly is reflective of his growing indifference towards the party affairs – probably after the recent accentuation of Maryam Nawaz as the Chief Organizer and Senior Vice President of the PML-N, which has also reportedly pushed some senior leaders to form another pressure group against the dynastic tendencies of the Sharifs.

In the last one year, there have been very few instances when both cousins appeared publicly together.

While their party was engaged in high-octane squabble with the PTI and PML-Q on the question of the fate of the Punjab Assembly, both preferred to remain abroad and run the show through their proxies which further augmented the prevailing confusion and pessimism in the local leadership.

The inability to preempt and muffle the ongoing awkward conflict between Dar and Miftah and failure to properly manage the Punjab theatre have further highlighted the aggravating leadership crisis within the PML-N.

The failure of the local leadership that included heavy weights like Rana Sanaullah, Khawaja Asif, Saad Rafique and Ataullah Tarar, who were bragging loudly about the PTI’s inability to manoeuvre Punjab ASSEMBLY’s arithmetic in its favour in the vote of confidence, has raised pricking questions about the unabated attrition of the PML-N’s ability to withstand and challenge the ruthless and brutal media campaign of Imran Khan in the coming days.

In the last one year, the PML-N leadership has neither been able to counter Imran Khan’s narrative, nor has come up with any powerful narrative to keep their vote bank intact.

The PML-N is no match to the PTI when it comes to the effective utilization of the social media platforms.

In the last one year, despite being persistently cornered by the highly incisive social media campaign of the PTI, there is complete apathy in the PML-N camp on this matter.

They have not yet learned any lesson from their failures. The droopiness of the PML-N leadership is accentuating with each passing day.

The Punjab fiasco has a seriously demoralizing effect on the supporters of the PML-N. The problems are multiplying for the party.

Ishaq Dar appears to be utterly clueless how to shove the economy towards calm waters and the wedge between two cousins is also getting deeper, with no hope of any respite in the coming days.

There is no plan in the pipeline to re-organize the party at the grass-root level. A complete disconnect between the leadership and the voters is very much evident.

But the problem is that there are no concrete or specific efforts by the leadership to address this disengagement.

The Punjab fiasco has further aggravated the descending glumness in the PML-N camp, which is now finding itself increasingly on the back-foot.

Maryam’s return will play a decisive role in the party’s future direction.

If the PML-N is able to make it a mega event, Maryam will emerge as a very strong power centre within the party and will be able to purge the party of the uncle — just like what Benazir Bhutto did to the PPP’s old lot of grey-haired uncles after her return from the exile. However, in case of a milder show, we may witness a speedy corrosion of the PML-N.

—The writer is political analyst, based in Karachi.