Pakistan Muslim League may be the Grand Old Party of the country, but its ‘N’ faction is the one that has played politics better than other factions. The PML-N is ruling Pakistan under the leadership of its founder, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, for a third time after winning the latest general elections.
It won that victory in the face of fierce attacks by its opponents during a particularly toxic election campaign, with PPP rivals often calling the PML-N “GT Road Party” because its popularity appeared to be restricted to areas along the historic road, notably its stretch passing the PML-N power base, Punjab. Politics and polemics being inseparable, such attacks have continued after the party’s induction in power – with a significant difference though.
In the post-victory period, the attacks are coming not just from the enemy lines but also from inside the PML-N – and for completely different reasons.
Whispered resentment of some PML-N lawmakers over not being accommodated in the federal cabinet, is even finding voice now.
A loyal party old guard, who can be identified only by the constituency he represents, Faisalabad, quietly confided: “our voters ask us why the city has not been given representation in the federal government - a question to which we have no plausible answer.”
In the 2008 elections, the PPP won six National Assembly seats from Faisalabads 11 constituencies and two of them were given a cabinet seat one after the other.
In this election, the PML-N made a clean sweep there, except one constituency where elections were postponed due to the killing of a candidate. Even otherwise Faisalabad is a major industrial centre, known for its world class textile products.
Another MNA from Faisalabad asked to comment too would speak only off the record. “Leave aside Lahore, which is home of the Sharif brothers, district Sialkot was given three cabinet seats (Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Zahid Hamid), Gujranwala city two (Usman Ibrahim and Khurram Dastagir), district Sheikhupura two (Barjees Tahir, Rana Tanvir) district Rawalpindi three (Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Sheikh Aftab, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi).
This is sheer discrimination, which the party leadership shouldn’t ignore,” he said.
“We are hoping that when the cabinet is expanded in the future Faisalabad city will get its due share,” said the hopeful PML-N lawmaker, emphasising that “the concern” had been communicated to the party leadership.
Then Sahiwal division is also missing in the federal cabinet.
At present, the PML-N government has 17 federal ministers, eight of them belonging to Lahore and Gujranwala divisions.
They not only outnumber the ministers taken from the rest seven Punjab divisions, but also hold choicest portfolios. Ministry of finance (Ishaq Dar), water & power (Khawaja Asif), planning commission (Ahsan Iqbal), information and broadcasting (Parvez Rashid) defence production (Rana Tanvir Hussain), GB and Kashmir Affairs (Barjees Tahir) Science & technology (Zahid Hamid), and Pakistan Railways (Khawaja Saad Rafique).
There are also nine ministers of state in the federal cabinet.
Here, too, the Lahore and Gujranwala divisions fill four slots – the state minister for housing and works (Usman Ibrahim), for privatization (Khurram Dastagir), for information technology (Anusha Rehman), and of National Health Services and Regulations (Saira Afzal Tarar).
Over all of them sit Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister Punjab, from Lahore, derisively called Thakt-i-Lahore by the old PPP rivals.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, too is from Lahore, though chosen for the post by consensus in the PML-N.
Some pragmatists in the party, however, hold the view that the important constitutional position of Speaker at the federal level should have gone to someone from the smaller provinces.
Their argument is that since the prime minister is from Punjab, choosing the speaker from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan province would have been more proper and improved the party’s image. When this view was put to a senior PML-N leader, he explained that the Speaker was an important position and the party wanted it “in safe hands”.
In the parliamentary form of governments, speaker plays a crucial role in steering legislation. Moreover, the party leadership needed a trusted MNA for the position, which, it got in the form of Mr Sadiq, he said.
Still, the fact that PML-N lawmakers from Lahore and Gujranwala divisions dominate the federal cabinet to the loss of others is causing heartburn to many in the party.
However, senior PML-N leader and federal minister for planning commission Ahsan Iqbal, rubbished such feelings, saying that the PML-N didn’t follow “any region-based quota” for selecting members of the federal cabinet
According to Mr Iqbal, the government is facing serious challenges in all sectors, which needed experienced hands. “All of us have proven track records. That’s the sole reason we are part of the federal cabinet,” he said, assuring the coming months will prove that Prime Minister Sharif made the right choice for his cabinet.