Shujaat, Zardari rescue PML-N | By Naveed Aman Khan

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Shujaat, Zardari rescue PML-N

POLITICAL stalwarts Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Asif Ali Zardari have turned the PTI coalition table turtle in Punjab as Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi lost the run of chief ministership once again.

The Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari, after reading the letter written to him by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, decided to reject 10 votes cast by PML-Q members in favour of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.

Against the decision of the Deputy Speaker, Elahi has filed a petition in the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry and if the SC rejects his petition and accepts the conclusion of the Deputy Speaker, Elahi will be clean bowled for the third consecutive time.

In Pakistan, politics keeps its followers on the edges. The same remained true for the Punjab by-elections where the voters of different constituencies proved the election pundits wrong.

Against all odds and predictions, PTI won 15 out of 20 seats, regaining Punjab’s control from PML-N.

The PTI’s landslide victory in the Punjab by-polls has rendered the PML-N-led coalition government in the centre toothless with early elections looking imminent.

Though it will be premature and too early to pass a verdict on how Punjab’s politics will evolve and how Pakistan’s largest province is likely to vote in the next elections.

Some factors resulting in the PML-N’s trouncing are obvious. The dichotomy of power and a confused narrative inside the PML-N’s upper echelons is the first main factor.

Nawaz’s absence and efforts to dictate terms from London have partly backfired. Just look back while the PML-N leader being in London the same party won almost all the by-polls during the IK’s premiership.

If PML-N has one X-factor left to salvage itself in Punjab in the next elections, now it is Nawaz’s return to Pakistan.

Shehbaz shies away from his elder brother’s aggressive politics. As compared with Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz has a more accommodative approach towards the Establishment.

The PML-N disowned Nawaz’s anti-establishment narrative enshrined in ‘Vote-ko-izzat-do’ slogan, which resonated with the party’s support-base in Punjab.

After the Imran’s ouster in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, PML-N abandoned this narrative and cozied up to the Establishment which turned out to be suicidal.

For four years, the anti-establishment narrative was the mainstay of PML-N’s politics in Punjab.

Imran cleverly picked up the thread of Punjab’s anti-establishment politics where PML-N left it.

The current situation has left PML-N in a catch-22 situation. If it continues with the same ambivalent approach, it will lose more space to the PTI in Punjab.

With the by-poll win and bright chances of early elections, the demand for PTI’s ticket in Punjab will rise again.

Pervaiz Elahi will try to make some inroads into PML-N’s ranks after coming to power.

On the contrary, if the PML-N switches back to the anti-establishment narrative, it will be too little too late because Imran has already captured that space.

This dichotomy of power and different political approaches leave the PML-N voters and workers confused.

To whom should they follow: Nawaz, or Shehbaz?The party will have to decide sooner. In future what will be the political role of Maryam Nawaz? Will she be Nawaz’s political heir-apparent or is it Shehbaz?

The party leadership cannot keep this matter under the wraps any longer. Shehbaz is an excellent administrator, but he is a weak leader who lacks charisma.

Maryam, on the contrary, is a genuine crowd-puller and a charismatic leader. The Punjab by-poll defeat has left the PML-N’s politics at crossroads; it will have to take some bold decisions in a quick time before it is too late.

The PML-N ignored the power of social media in an era of growing digitalization and information penetration while PTI took full advantage of it.

With no worthwhile achievement at his credit during his rule, IK has successfully mobilized his support-base on Twitter spaces, YouTube channels, Facebook Lives and Podcasts.

In a digital era where thousands of new voters are being added to the electoral registers every month, the PML-N was found lacking.

Most of these young voters in each constituency are PTI’s vote bank. The PML-N will have to go back to the drawing board and rejig its social media strategy if it wants to make an impact in the next elections.

Political hubris and complacency were another factor which undid the PML-N in Punjab. Over the years, the PML-N went comparatively lazy and did not seize the opportunities when they presented themselves in Punjab.

The party leadership calculated that in 2018 the only reason for its defeat in Punjab was the Establishment’s interference.

In 2022 the PML-N’s thinking that the Establishment’s neutrality would restore its power in Punjab was flawed.

The PML-N traded its narrative for a power grab, while its position all along was to oust Imran Khan and pave the way for early election after reforms in electoral and accountability laws.

Once it managed to cobble together a coalition government of strange fellows, it decided to stay on.

The unpopular decisions such as withdrawing subsidies from the energy products to revive the IMF’s Program’s bailout package resulting in soaring inflation also cost the PML-N dearly.

The decision to give tickets to political turncoats in a do-or-die by-election alienated the longstanding party workers.

The PML-N fielded candidates who fought against it in the 2018 elections. It was not easy to convince the party cadres to run their election campaigns.

The PMLN just demanded too much from its party workers who were waiting to reap the fruits of four years of political sacrifices only to know that their political opponents will walk away with those perks.

The PML-N lost recent by-elections for abandoning the ‘Vote-ko-izzat-do’ narrative also. The PML-N will require bold decisions, clear-eyed political positions and the revamping of its social media strategy to recover from this drubbing situation.

The Punjab by-poll defeat left the PML-N in a catch-22 situation, but Shujaat and Zardari timely came to rescue.

For the next contest who has pulled up the socks — Nawaz, IK, Zardari, Maulana, Establishment or the masses?

The nation has continuously been facing castrated political artists not leaders. We still are looking for genuine, sincere and capable leadership who could steer the country and the nation.

—The writer is editor, book ambassador political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.

 

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