Ruling Punjab

Published May 1, 2022

AFTER a month of intense political drama, court battles and violent moments in the provincial assembly, Punjab finally got its new chief minister on Saturday. That the National Assembly Speaker had to fly into the provincial capital on the orders of the Lahore High Court to administer the oath to PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz, because the governor had spurned previous court rulings to do so and the president was unwilling to nominate a representative in his place, shows the political minefield that lies ahead.

Given the determination of the opposition PTI and PML-Q to snatch back power from the PML-N-led government, new twists and turns in provincial politics are likely to keep the chief executive very busy in the weeks ahead. But it will be more challenging to deliver on his party’s promises to the people, give a budget that promises significant relief to inflation-stricken citizens, and improve service delivery, at a time when the government faces tough economic conditions.

Read: Does Hamza face an immediate threat to office? Here's what law experts have to say

Immediate and visible improvements in governance in Punjab are not only important for Hamza Shehbaz to establish himself as a worthy administrator in his own right — and not simply as his father’s ‘political heir’ — they will also be needed for his party to win the province next year in the general elections.

In the past, the formula where the elder brother ruled Islamabad and the younger managed Punjab worked well for the PML-N. Will it be smooth sailing this time as well, with his father ruling Islamabad? So far the PML-N leadership has tried to tread very cautiously at the federal level, taking their allies along almost every step of the way, in view of the enormous economic and political challenges facing it. But Punjab is also where the party will find it much more difficult to accommodate its allies, who may be contesting against it in the next elections.

Read: The Hamza factor

As chief minister, Shehbaz Sharif was not known for sharing powers even with his cabinet ministers and used to micromanage everything through his favourite bureaucrats. But those were different times and he was not encumbered by any obligations to allies. His son is confronted with quite a different situation. He may have to go the extra mile to accommodate the other parties, especially PTI dissidents who have risked their political careers to support him.

Moreover, even though Hamza Shehbaz is not new to Punjabi officialdom as he frequently interacted with bureaucrats during the PML-N’s last two terms when his father was chief minister, he is still an unknown commodity to them in terms of being their boss.

Despite his family’s strong political hold on the province and its bureaucracy, Hamza Shehbaz, who is justifiably dogged by allegations of nepotism, must create a place of his own if he plans to stay in politics for a longer innings, like his uncle and father.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2022

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