LAHORE: A debate has begun in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) over the party’s strategy in the wake of back to back defeats in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir election and Sialkot by-poll.

The loss of a provincial assembly seat on Wednesday which the PML-N had won in 2018 with a margin of over 17,000 votes ‘shocked’ the party lawmakers who are concerned over the future of the party without mending its relations with the establishment.

Although the top party leadership has been blaming ‘systematic rigging’ for its loss in the AJK and Sialkot, party lawmakers and other leaders are not taking the ‘rigging saga’ seriously, believing `blessings of the establishment’ mattered in the end.

Dawn spoke to a few PML-N lawmakers on Thursday who said that they were reading a ‘clear message’ in the results of the AJK and Sailkot that their party stood no chance of return to power in 2023 general election if the ‘policy of confrontation’ against the establishment pushed by former premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz continued.

They were of the view that the party’s top leadership needed to ‘revisit’ its style of politics before it’s too late.

“This narrative of confrontation may have earned some relief for some party men but as a whole it (PML-N) is pushed to the wall. Now the time has come to do some smart politics,” a senior PML-N lawmaker said.

“When any of us humbly raises this issue in the party meeting we are told that it is Nawaz’s narrative that has made the PML-N ticket the most sought after in Punjab and if anyone has any doubt in this regard he may not apply for ticket in the future polls,” he said.

Another lawmaker said the PML-N should have revisited its strategy after the PPP quit the opposition alliance – Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) -- and adopted Shehbaz’s policy of reconciliation. “For the last one year, PML-N led by Maryam Nawaz has been targeting the elements in the establishment to establish the narrative ‘give respect to the ballot’. But some success in the by-polls was misread by some in the party that it was because of this narrative. But, in fact, the masses are sick of the Imran Khan government’s failure to control inflation and vent their anger in by-polls against it. It is true if free and fair polls are held the PML-N will emerge victorious in Punjab but who will ensure this,” he asked.

Similarly, the MPA said the party president Shehbaz Sharif seemed to have taken a back seat after drubbing from his elder brother (Nawaz) over getting a go-ahead to hold a dialogue with the powers that be.

The opposition leader in National Assembly (Shehbaz) who, a couple of months ago, had floated a proposal of holding a “grand dialogue” with all stakeholders, including the establishment, has yet to convince Nawaz Sharif in this respect.

Shehbaz was also conspicuous by his absence in the AJK election campaign where Maryam Nawaz took the centre stage.

Another senior leader said there was no point in getting panicky at this stage as enough time was left in 2023 election. “There may be a change in the leadership in the establishment before 2023 polls and also Afghanistan issue is there and there has been nothing big to the credit of the PTI government… in such a scenario PML-N cannot be cast away,” he said.

Maryam Nawaz insists the PML-N lost in AJK and Sialkot because of ‘selection.’ “Wining and losing will be established when elections will take place. In selection this cannot be determined. The ‘same page’ PTI government does not believe in the votes of the people that is why it is banking on the selection. Soon the respect to the vote will be restored,” Ms Nawaz said in a tweet.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2021

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