Shehbaz’s remarks stir up political debate

Published September 1, 2021
In this file photo, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif gestures after appearing before a Joint Investigation Team in Islamabad on  June 17, 2017. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif gestures after appearing before a Joint Investigation Team in Islamabad on June 17, 2017. — Reuters/File

• PML-N terms party president’s views about national govt his ‘personal’
• PPP questions timing, calls it a bid to remain relevant
• PTI sees it as opposition leader’s attempt to ‘save his skin’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif’s remarks about the formation of a national government amid speculation about the possibility of early general elections have ignited a political debate in the country.

In a surprising reaction, the PML-N dubbed the party president’s views as ‘passing remarks’ based on his ‘personal’ opinion about a post-election scenario.

While questioning its timing, the other opposition party — Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — described the statement as a clear proof that the Pakistan Democratic Move­ment no more exists. The PPP believed it was an effort by the PML-N leader to keep himself “politically alive”.

Also, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) ridiculed the PML-N chief over his remarks, with federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry saying that Mr Sharif’s proposal of a national government was “a bid to save his own skin”.

In what appears to be a damage control move, the PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb issued a statement on Tues­day ‘clarifying’ that the party president during his meeting with journalists in Karachi on Monday had made a “passing remark” based on his “personal” opinion.

“PML-N president and National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif made a passing remark that if the people of Pakistan by the grace of God Almighty gave the PML-N the responsibility to govern again after the next elections, in his personal view he would not mind inviting other political parties, excluding the PTI, to contribute towards solving the massive crisis created by the Imran Khan government over their disastrous tenure in government,” said Ms Aurangzeb in a brief statement.

“Any news item carried by any news media stating otherwise is a misrepresentation of what the PML-N president said,” she added.

During a candid conversation with journalists on the final leg of his three-day visit to Karachi, Mr Sharif had stated that the solution to the national issues, ranging from foreign policy to economy and from political uncertainty to fast-eroding space for true democratic forces, demanded a consensus national government.

“Frankly, I am telling you that sometimes when I look at these huge problems and challenges, I feel convinced that it’s not possible for one party alone [to fix them],” he had said, adding: “It needs collective wisdom. It requires collective efforts. That’s why I think we should have a national government in place to sort out these huge tasks. I don’t know what the exact shape of this idea would be and the right time may make things clearer but for me it’s crucial. Even if we [PML-N] win a majority, we can’t fix it alone.”

When asked how the opinion expressed by the president of a party in his media talk could be taken as “personal opinion”, a PML-N office-bearer on condition of anonymity, said that since the issue of the national government had not been discussed at any forum of the party, Mr Sharif’s remarks could not be considered the party position.

Mr Sharif, who is known for his reconciliatory politics unlike his elder brother Nawaz Sharif, made the remarks only a day after the PDM power show in Karachi where the opposition leaders, including PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had taken a hard stance against the present PTI government and vowed to topple it through street power.

Political experts believe the PML-N president’s statement had strengthened the impression of prevailing two narratives within the party that came under scrutiny during the recent polls in Azad Jammu and Kashmir when the party’s entire election campaign was run by Maryam Nawaz while Mr Sharif remained away from public meetings.

Ms Aurangzeb later at a presser last month had refuted the reports about existence of two narratives in the party, terming such reports part of the government’s planned campaign to divert people’s attention from real issues. “I want to say it in categorical terms that there is only one narrative in the PML-N which is Vote Ko Izzat Do (give respect to vote) and supremacy of law and constitution. This is the narrative of Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and all the voters and workers of the PML-N,” she had declared.

In an apparent reference to Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and some other ministers’ assertion that the Sharif brothers are pursuing different narratives, Ms Aurangzeb had claimed such reports were being fed to the media by the government people immediately after the “theft” of the July 25 elections in AJK. “The PML-N had and will continue to have a singular, cohesive, united narrative that binds every single one of its leaders, members, workers, voters and supporters together under one ideology,” she had declared.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2021

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