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A win for ex-PM

November 23, 2017

THE parliamentary numbers were always in favour of the PML-N, but the vote had the appearance of a mini referendum among the party’s MNAs on the leadership of Nawaz Sharif.

In the end, the PML-N easily passed the test, defeating an opposition bill in the National Assembly that sought to strip Mr Sharif of the PML-N presidency.

If the PML-N had been wrong in diluting the consensus on election reforms by inserting a provision that allowed a disqualified Mr Sharif to hold party office, the opposition could have thought twice about trying to pull what was effectively a parliamentary stunt.

The opposition move may have backfired in that it forced the PML-N into uniting behind its leader at a time when Nawaz Sharif and his children are under legal siege.

For now at least, Mr Sharif’s political fate remains an open question.

Can Mr Sharif make a political comeback? While the avenues for a return to public office remain few, the ousted prime minister appears to be banking on political fortune more than legal reality.

In the past, political figures whose careers were assumed to be over have made improbable comebacks. PPP supremo Asif Zardari is an example of a stunning turnaround in political fortunes.

Mr Sharif himself is a beneficiary of the political order bestowing a legitimacy that anti-democratic forces have tried to snatch via fixing the rules of the system.

His return to Pakistan after years of exile under military dictator Pervez Musharraf saw electoral wins that carried the PML-N to power in Punjab first and, at the next election, the centre.

With a third on-schedule election slated for next year, Mr Sharif appears to be hoping for firm electoral support as a prelude to forcing his way back to power.

The uncertainty over the duration of Mr Sharif’s disqualification from public office — has the Supreme Court judgement in the Panama Papers case rendered him ineligible for public office for life or a shorter duration? — may also be feeding Mr Sharif and the PML-N’s hopes.

Be that as it may, the effects on the democratic order of Mr Sharif’s fight to keep his political career alive are surely not salutary.

If a return of parliament to the centre of political activity was a welcome change, the drama leading up to the vote on Tuesday in the National Assembly demonstrated how a single politician, admittedly the largest figure on the national stage, can steer the entire democratic process for personal advantage.

Mr Sharif still faces a formidable challenge in the accountability court and his strident political tone on his and his children’s trial suggests that a negative verdict is expected.

Better, then, for the Sharifs to defend themselves vigorously in the accountability court — a conviction there would further undermine Mr Sharif’s prospects of a return to direct electoral politics.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017