ISLAMABAD: A formal change of command took place in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Tuesday when Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was formally ‘elected’ as the party’s full-time president by members of the general council, four months before the next general elections.
The younger Sharif had been nominated as interim president of the party last month following the removal of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from the office by the Supreme Court.
During a meeting of the Central Working Committee in Lahore, the PML-N members had nominated Nawaz Sharif as lifetime Quaid (supreme leader) of the party, besides nominating Shahbaz Sharif as his successor.
The party had convened the general council meeting to formally elect Shahbaz Sharif as the party president, as per the PML-N’s constitution and requirement of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Shahbaz elected full-time PML-N president
This was the first major gathering of the party leaders and workers held after the ruling alliance faced a defeat at the hands of the opposition alliance in the elections for the Senate chairman and deputy chairman. And as expected, the two Sharifs used the occasion to vent their anger over the defeat and castigated their opponents, particularly Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari for joining hands and thus forming an unnatural alliance.
In his speech Nawaz Sharif, without naming anyone, termed his opponents “hypocrites”, saying “your words and actions do not match”.
And his younger brother concluded his speech by declaring that “Niazi and Zardari” could not prevail over them even if they joined hands.
Addressing the mismanaged gathering after his “unopposed election”, Shahbaz Sharif said he felt honoured to have been chosen as the party president. Praising his elder brother while reading out the speech, Shahbaz Sharif said no one, including him, could even think of taking the place of Nawaz Sharif.
“I believe Nawaz Sharif is the only politician in Pakistan who can be called Jinnah’s political heir,” he said amidst sloganeering by the charged party workers and members of the general council who had come to the meeting from all parts of the country, including Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
While the party has got a new president, it is still being run without a full-time secretary general as election for the post was not held on Tuesday. The office of secretary general had fallen vacant after the appointment of Iqbal Zafar Jhagra as Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa about two years ago. At present Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is functioning as acting secretary general.
It was a rare scene to see Shahbaz Sharif delivering a written speech and Nawaz Sharif making an extempore speech at such a party gathering, which was also attended by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, besides a number of senior party members, office-bearers and legislators.
However, the absence of the party dissident and one-time loyalist to the party leadership, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was conspicuous. When contacted, a senior PML-N leader claimed that there had been no meeting between Chaudhry Nisar and Mr Sharif for the past many months.
Though the two Sharifs in their speeches targeted the opposition parties, perhaps in a conscious move, they did not launch any direct attack on the judges and the judiciary.
Shahbaz Sharif only said that Nawaz Sharif had been a victim of “injustice”, whereas the latter simply stated that he had been facing NAB courts despite the fact that he had not committed any corruption or wrongdoing. The younger Sharif said his heart was telling him that one day Nawaz Sharif would get justice.
The Punjab chief minister said Nawaz Sharif as prime minister had made Pakistan’s defence “invincible” through nuclear programme and rejected $5 billion aid from the United States.
“History will also remember Nawaz Sharif for eliminating terrorism through the sacrifices of armed forces and nearly eliminating loadshedding,” he said, adding: “Today is not a day to extend and receive greetings. The world knows that our leader has been persecuted and discriminated against.”
He said the PML-N would defeat the alliance between Imran Khan and Asif Zardari. The Punjab chief minister also criticised the performance of the PTI-led government in KP and the PPP’s government in Sindh.
In his speech, Nawaz Sharif, in an apparent reference to the defeat in the election for Senate chairman and deputy on Monday, said: “You have lost despite winning.” He said those talking about a new Pakistan had proved themselves to be “key-operated toys” after staging a “drama” in the Senate.
In an apparent reference to Imran Khan and Asif Zardari, the former prime minister said: “The one from Banigala, and those from Bilawal House and the caravans from KP... all went and bowed before the same ‘shrine’. You have lost even though you won and we have won despite facing defeat.”
He said he was unable to comprehend as to why an elected prime minister had been abruptly removed. He asked the party workers to compare the situation in the country today with the one in 2013 when they had acquired power. He said it was the PML-N’s government which had now almost eliminated loadshedding. “The people were experiencing 20 to 22 hours of loadshedding daily a few years ago. And now they are living in peace.”
Mr Sharif said Prime Minister Abbasi was inaugurating the projects which had been started by him. “I am a human too. My heart has been broken by the mistreatment (meted out to me).”
He said the title of PML-N’s manifesto for the next elections would be based on four words — vote ko izzat do (respect vote). He said the people would change the next elections into a referendum, adding that he was facing NAB cases not because of any corruption, but because “I talk about the respect for people’s vote”.
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2018