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Parliament Watch: Nawaz Sharif’s fear of political demons and his past baggage

Parliament Watch: Nawaz Sharif’s fear of political demons and his past baggage

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told a gathering of farmers in Islamabad this week that some power-hungry “people” want to dislodge him. His words betrayed a worry but he gave no hint who were they.

A few days earlier, though, he had spoken to a group of PML-N leaders and allies from Sindh about the PPP and MQM acting combative when he had been pursuing reconciliation with all his opponents.

Such utterances by a third time prime minister, who commands a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, didn’t go unnoticed. Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah of PPP was quick to assure that no one could dislodge the prime minister as long as the parliament and democracy exist in the country.

Political circles however continue guessing what is worrying the prime minister. Is it the ever rising popularity of the army chief General Raheel Sharif? Or the verbal onslaughts of former president PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari against both the Sharifs – the prime minister and the commander-in-chief? Or the pain-in-the-neck Imran Khan of PTI who wants army-led Rangers carry out Karachi-like operation against corruption in other provinces too.

Most political observers had concluded after the judicial inquiry commission gave its verdict about the veracity of 2013 general election, that it won a fresh mandate to the PML-N and a much needed legitimacy to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s rule against PTI’s claims that the 2013 elections were heavily rigged. However, the decisions of the election tribunals that followed de-seating of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and another PML-N lawmaker who had defeated PTI’s Jahangir Tareen in 2013, pushed the ruling party back into depression and political hell.

In background discussions, politicians across party lines tended to agree that rather than the prevailing political chaos the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s fears were grounded in what they called his chronic mistrust in other state institutions that he developed during his previous two stints in office which ended in his unceremonious exit from power.

A senior PML-N lawmaker, who had worked closely with the party leadership, said that “apart from the present circumstances, when PPP has decided to end its policy of reconciliation, the prime minister has remained wary of other institutions and political opponents in his third term.” Even with comfortable strength in the two houses of parliament, he found the behaviour natural for anyone who had been forcibly pushed out twice.

But for another senior PML-N leader, occupying a ministerial post, the present rulers carry the heavy baggage of their own legacy of “mistrust towards powers that be” and that of decades of fractious civil-military relations in the country. “One shouldn’t be surprised when prime minister expresses concern about the forces of de-stabilisation,” he said, reminding that “all democratically elected governments” had to cope with the unusual civil-military equation.

Unfortunately, the PML-N failed to manage the imbalance in the 1990s, which continues to reflect on “our government’s moves.”

A PPP former minister, on the other hand, blamed the increasing polarisation in the political sphere on Mian Nawaz Sharif’s preference to run the government through handpicked aides and bureaucrats. His habit of mistrusting everybody else brought him his current woes.

“Former president Asif Zardari is accused of, and charged with, all sorts of corruption but he must be given credit for building a larger political consensus, which is unthinkable under the present government,” he said. “What to say of taking political adversaries along, the Sharif brothers are known for jettisoning old trusted friends, like Senator Zulfiqar Khosa and former Sindh Chief Minister Syed Ghaus Ali Shah, when in power.”

To a political commentator, however, PM Nawaz Sharif’s sudden disclosure of unnamed actors trying to dislodge him appeared to be an attempt at deflecting the “friendly fire” his government is drawing over the mismanaged Nandipur Power Project. After calls for across-the-board accountability, the PML-N government is under pressure to come clean on the Nandipur project and its controversial deal to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Another political commentator feels it would be unrealistic to expect that the nearly 15 years of political exile would have brought “radical change” in the thinking of the Sharif brothers. “Though he does not face any terminal threat to his rule, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will continue to look askance at his political rivals - this time Imran Khan and the military leadership,” he said.

At the end of the day, the PML-N’s future will be defined by the Sharifs’ performance report. Halfway through their third stint, they are yet to set the priorities of their government. Energy crisis continues and the rural economy is in dire straits. The business class, their natural ally, is looking unhappy with their skewed tax reforms. It will be a long wait to see what PM Nawaz Sharif effectively achieves of the promises which won him the last elections before the PML-N wades into the 2018 general election.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2015

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