AS most of the legal tea leaf readers had predicted over the last four days, the Supreme Court on Tuesday night dethroned Hamza Shehbaz, declared Chaudhry Parvez Elahi as the chief minister, and told President Arif Alvi to administer the oath within the next 150 minutes of the order if the governor causes any delay, after which the PML-N feels ‘trapped and deceived’ — in every sense of the word — physically, politically, and most importantly, psychologically.

The immediate reaction to the short SC order from the party supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was instructive. He tweeted: “Pakistan turned into a circus. Salute to the three (Supreme Court) judges.” His daughter and heir apparent, Maryam, called it a “judicial coup” in her reaction. Both these tweets, as party insiders explain, reflect the line of thinking in the PML-N that may now set the course of their politics. “Expect a change of policy direction as well as gear in the days to come.”

Read more: Ruling coalition rejects, PTI hails apex court verdict on Punjab CM election

The Tuesday decision did not hit the party out of the blue; it rather concluded a long series of events that ‘generated and cemented’ a sense of deception in the party, explains a party leader, who did not want to named because the party is still in the process of debating its future course of action. In fact, none of the leaders Dawn spoke to last night wanted to be named for the same reason.

“Ever since the PML-N took over in Islamabad in April, it did not want, and was not allowed to either, to deal with Imran Khan and the PTI as outgoing parties are usually dealt with in the country — arrests, investigations, corruption cases and police chasing and rounding up party leaders,” the PML-N man said.

“Rather, the party soon sensed that the judiciary is turning out to be the new protector of Imran Khan since he started getting relief in years-old cases, which were registered even before him coming to power and included charges like terrorism. He was allowed to protest and launch long marches under judicial protection, which turned into a huge encouragement for him. He went to court on the slightest of excuses and got instant relief – a pattern that politically hit the PML-N.

“It all happened while the PML-N government was requested to negotiate with the IMF, beg friendly countries for billions of dollars and take some suicidal economic decisions — all in the name of saving the country from economic meltdown and default. Now, when the IMF deal is sealed, friendly states have promised money and hard economic decisions have started biting people, the rug is being pulled from under the party’s feet,” he explains, insisting: “The party has a right to feel cheated.”

This policy ‘trap’ is not the only factor forcing the PML-N to review its strategy; it fears it may soon face a physical challenge.

“The federal government will now be beseeched by two federating units — Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab — ruled by the PTI. The Centre would literally be on its knees if Imran Khan announces a long march in the next month and runs unhindered on the capital from both sides. What would happen to the federal government’s writ, especially if the Rangers are not ‘available’ to protect the capital? In that case, what would happen to the political capital of the PML-N? For the party, it is not a conspiracy theory, but a looming threat. What if the long march also has judicial protection, as was the case last time? Its altruism of economic decisions has not served it well, and any physical blockade of the capital would only drive the proverbial last nail in its political coffin,” explains another party insider.

“The party always had critics of the policy of cooperating with the establishment, including people like Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz — supported by dozens of important leaders. The sense of betrayal will now strengthen their hands and one may soon see the party dusting off its old narrative of ‘vote ko izzat do’ (respect for vote). The SC throwing out the PML-N government in Punjab may soon prove to be a God-send opportunity to renew the campaign,” a party leader says.

One may soon see Nawaz Sharif taking the lead in attacking both the judiciary and the establishment, starting from where he left some 18 months ago with Maryam, always eager to do so, following him.

“The party has been thinking for a while to restore its narrative, and the judicial act of Tuesday may turn out to be the starting point that the party had been looking for,” comments the leader, who has been involved in the policy formation debate for the last few weeks.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2022

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