Former prime minister and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif on Sunday addressed a public gathering in Abbottabad, formally launching his party's campaign for the upcoming general election.
Sharif began his address with a trademark declaration of love to his audience. "Nawaz Sharif really loves you too," he told the crowd.
"Today, I am remembering 2013. The same passion was present then," he said, surveying the gathering.
The former premier, who was disqualified from public office by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers verdict, told his supporters that "no court's decision can break the ties" between him and his following in Abbottabad.
He recalled developments made by his government since 2013, including infrastructural and power projects. The Haripur motorway to Havelian will be completed shortly, he said. "I may not be prime minister anymore, but the motorway will continue being built."
People speak of a 'minus-Nawaz Sharif formula', he said. "But Nawaz Sharif is an ideology and this ideology will bring revolutionary change across Pakistan," he claimed.
"Nawaz Sharif is not a loser. If he was a loser, you and I would not be friends," he told the crowd. "Will you support me in this struggle?"
Read: The Supreme Court still has some pretty damning things to say regarding Panamagate
The ousted premier claimed that not a single penny's worth of corruption had been proved against him or his family members. "When all efforts to do so were unsuccessful, the SC said that I did not take a salary from my son, so I was disqualified," he said.
Sharif reiterated the same statements he has made since he was disqualified: asking the public whether they accepted the decision "these five people" ─ the SC bench ─ had made for the people of Pakistan, and told the crowd that they would have to side with him if they did not.
He railed against the apex court, which he claimed had no qualms about taking an oath from former president Pervez Musharraf. "That's why the caravan keeps getting looted," he said, referring to a small quotation in the SC order on the judgement, "and why democracy kept going off the rails."
"Lots of games like this have been played time and time again," he warned. "Everyone is awake and they will take account of each and everything."
PML-N's political struggle in Hazara
The PML-N MNAs, MPAs, leaders and activists across Hazara division are persuading their voters, sympathisers and other people to attend the public meeting in large numbers as observers believe irrespective of the dynamics of the new political order that is clearly advocating little future role for the PML-N in the national politics, Nawaz Sharif will use his political clout for winning the sympathies of the people of Hazara at least for getting a piece of pie in the future government in the province.
Currently, the PML-N has five MNAs and seven MPAs and a woman on reserved seat from entire Hazara division but one of the MPAs from PK-56, Mansehra, Wajeehuzzaman Khan parted ways with it to join the PTI after the cancelation of party membership and filing of disqualification reference on the charge of misconduct in the last Senate elections.
The PML-N MPAs face the scathing criticism from their voters for not bringing development funds to the division though the party is in power at the federal level.
MNA from NA-20, Mansehra, and federal minister Sardar Mohammad Yousuf, former PM Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law and NA-21 Mansehra MNA retired captain Mohammad Safdar and National Assembly deputy speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi have, despite differences within the party, succeeded in attracting the limelight through gas, road and power projects in their respective constituencies.
However, the overall performance of PML-N MNA Babar Nawaz Khan from Haripur, Senator and minister Salahuddin Tirmizi of Mansehra, former governor and sitting adviser to PM on civil aviation Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan from Abbottabad and Sarzamin Khan from Kohistan regarding the region’s development is unimpressive.
The ongoing war of words between the current, former and future election candidates of the PML-N from across Hazara clearly indicate that the PML-N’s house is not in order.
On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif’s unfulfilled promises of 500-bedded hospital, reconstruction of 1000 schools in the earthquake hit areas of Hazara, Women University, Medical University, Mansehra Airport, revival of sick industrial unit of Telephone Industries of Pakistan (TIP), road projects including Galiyat, Kaghan area, have considerably distanced its voters from the party.
The poor homework by the PML-N provincial and central leadership and elected MNAs and MPAs has given a freehand to PTI lawmakers to make a dent in Hazara, once the stronghold of PML-N.
The creation of two new districts and five tehsils, reforms in health, education and governance has facilitated Imran’s party to strengthen its grip on the politics, forcing PML-N’s voters to have second thought about electing their future representatives.
Several of former and sitting PML-N MNAs and MPAs may join the PTI or JUI-F eying the next government.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Panama leaks case has lowered the chances of PML-N forming the next government in the province.
The PTI leadership while feeling the pulse of Hazarawals successfully threw the ball in the court of the PML-N by adopting Hazara province’s resolution last year although its constitutional status is still questionable.
The PML-N is left with two solutions for its political survival in Hazara.
One is to go for some tactical moves as damage control that Panamagate case has caused to it worldwide and second is to win the hearts of people of Hazara by adopting Hazara province’s resolution before the dissolution of assemblies for next election otherwise the PTI, which is still in the driving seat in KP, could reap the benefit of the weak wicket the PML-N is right now standing on and go for dividing Hazara division into two administrative divisions which was factually the brainchild of ANP, a political party that was opposed to creation of Hazara province.
With additional reporting by Muhammad Sadaqat.