The article was first published in April, 2018.

As they say, the second shoe finally fell for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The disqualification of Nawaz Sharif is for life. That effectively means that the PML-N is in its post-Nawaz era and things are not looking good.

The narrative that is being pushed through the mass rallies has created differences within the party. Chaudhry Nisar as well as others are against the harsh tone taken against the judiciary and the military.

Their argument is that the narrative being peddled is putting on edge any chances the party has of survival in the long run.

Even the current president of the party, Shahbaz Sharif, seems to be reluctant to follow Nawaz's narrative as he sees it as a threat to the future of the party under him. They are not entirely wrong.

Editorial: Unsurprising verdict

In a country like Pakistan, going up against the security establishment is not the most ideal path and often hurts any party. And this is where the biggest divisions in the PML-N are coming to the front.

Most of the defections seen in recent days, from Gujranwala as well as Sheikhupura, have made a point to explain that their reason for defection is partly that narrative.

The question then is what now? What is the future of the party given these splits that are becoming clearer by the day?

Post-Nawaz PML-N

Nawaz Sharif is gone. Next up may well be Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. Maryam has a contempt of court petition against her in the Lahore High Court, as well as a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) case in relation to the Avenfield apartments.

Shahbaz has enough cases against him that any one of them around the Sasti Roti Scheme, Multan Metro, the Ashiana Scheme or the Model Town case can render him useless.

And while the talk of bringing in the grandson, Junaid, into politics may seem like an option, it is too early and will not have the expected impact.

Part of the reason being that, like the rest of the world, Pakistan is slowly moving to a point where the average voter is over the family business model of political parties.

People associate corruption with dynastic politics as a given and the appetite to tolerate that is no longer there.

Secondly, in the absence of party professionalisation, party members have little incentive to be loyal as there is no growth potential for them.

Unfortunately, the political dynasties are too insecure to let anyone else head the government or the party.

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That creates a situation where an electable with their vote bank would rather contest as an independent and then choose where they wish to end up rather than opt for a party. And those that do wish to join a party have very limited options.

In the post-Nawaz era, the PML-N will witness a lot more defections, but a bulk will come in the shape of electables choosing to go independent before the elections.

We can realistically expect a group of 40-50 independent candidates contesting under the same symbol and as an informal group that will have more sway rather than being associated with a party.

This will create a new set of issues for a PML-N that is still not over the idea that they are being taken to the cleaners.

With the family out of the party, what will be left is a PML-N with senior leaders, all battling to keep the structure in check.

And with the rising threat of further defections, the party may be contesting elections against its former candidates in a host of constituencies across the country.

Survival guaranteed?

With the prospect of key disqualifications and contesting against its own former candidates, the reality has still not sunk in completely. The party is fighting for its survival.

The loyal workers are disgruntled, in large part, about being dumped to the way side for the last five years. The provincial assembly candidates have their own set of grievances for being completely forgotten by the chief minister.

That creates a realistic situation where Punjab is ready to vote in a different group of people to power.

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The PML-N has held Punjab for over 10 years and in that period, a certain part of Punjab has seen explosive growth while other parts have been ignored or forgotten. The neglected parts are unlikely to fall in line through the power of the narrative alone.

They need clear incentives and in case of further disqualifications, the biggest question would be, who is going to give the guarantees and the incentive? Whose word are they supposed to believe?

That is the kind of unpredictability the party is not thinking about right now. They are no where near having a plan for that. Because the advisers around the leadership lack the capacity to think that far out.

In such a scenario, one must then ask about the survival of the party going forward. Yes, it will survive, but not with the same kind of influence or might.

Punjab is likely heading towards a coalition government if the elections are to happen on time, and the most probable chief minister seems to be coming from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

Similarly, at the centre it seems that with the falling fortunes of the PML-N, we are looking at a hung parliament where independent candidates will have the role of kingmakers in whatever party comes to power.

And while the PTI and Pakistan People's Party are refusing to consider a seat adjustment right now, there is a good chance that they may think of coming together to form a government with the help of the independents.

A new PML

I realise that the picture I am painting is a grim one but that is the reality we are dealing with. We can fawn over the narrative and question the judiciary and the military, but that really does not change the facts.

A PML without the Sharifs is going to happen because the wheels are in motion to achieve that. Once that takes place, the question the party would need to ask is how they plan to function and operate. Who will take the lead and what kind of agenda are they willing to work on.

Analysis: What next for Nawaz Sharif?

Chaudhry Nisar is one good option to head the party but so are people like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal. The party any of them inherits will be a distinctly new party.

There will be a need to come up with new decision structures, brand new ways to push the message, and creation of new party leadership that can move forward. That is a daunting task and will not be achieved any time soon.

What has hurt the party the most over the years has been the clear lack of succession planning; now that the time is here, the problem is hitting home harder than people had assumed.

We are in for a period of political restructuring not just at the PML-N, but also at other parties.

The PPP will have to also go through a similar fate eventually whether they like it or not, because dynastic politics is done given the trajectory of democracy in our country.

The sooner parties realise that, the better it is for them.



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