Maryam Nawaz — PML-N’s heir apparent

Known for her biting rhetoric and ability to both pull and rouse a crowd, Maryam has made a name for herself in a political sphere dominated by men.
Published January 26, 2024

Maryam Nawaz, the apparent political heir of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, is a familiar face in Pakistani politics. Known for her biting rhetoric and ability to both pull and rouse a crowd, Maryam has made a name for herself in a political sphere dominated by men.

The three-time ‘first daughter’ was born in 1974. She married Mohammad Safdar, then a captain in the Pakistan Army, in 1992 during her father’s first term as prime minister.

She largely remained behind the scenes till 2013 when she helped manage her father’s re-election campaign. Maryam, then 39 years old, was the PML-N’s counter to the popularity that PTI’s Imran Khan enjoyed among the youth.

Once her father was in power, Maryam was appointed as the chairperson of the Prime Minister Youth Loan Programme. However, her appointment was challenged by the PTI in the Lahore High Court (LHC), which raised questions about her qualifications and asked the government to replace her. Subsequently, Maryam took charge of a social media wing within the party to counter the challenges posed by PTI.

By the time Maryam stood by her father at a series of rallies in the spring of 2018, she was already a name to reckon with, both within the PML-N and in national politics in general. She was considered a crowd-puller in her own right, and an organiser, delivering sharper responses to those she deemed her father’s opponents.

When general elections rolled around, Maryam was given party tickets for one National Assembly and one Punjab Assembly seat. But ahead of the elections, Maryam, along with Nawaz and her husband, was convicted in the Avenfield reference, in which she was accused of being “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and given a seven-year prison term.

She was subsequently disqualified from contesting elections for a decade.

Maryam appealed her conviction in the Islamabad High Court later that year — the court suspended the sentences awarded to her and her husband till the final verdict and released them on bail. But she was arrested in August 2019 from Kot Lakhpat Jail, where she was visiting her father, in connection with the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case.

She then approached the LHC which granted her bail in November of that year.

Maryam became more active in politics during her father’s almost four-year self-exile in the United Kingdom; she was appointed vice president for the first time in 2019. She led large anti-government rallies across the country, fiercely criticising Imran and the PTI as well as the army and judiciary for her father’s ouster and allegedly bringing the then-PTI chairman into power.

However, she appeared to take a back seat as the Pakistan Democratic Movement — the coalition of political parties — gathered steam and her uncle Shehbaz Sharif became the opposition’s nominee for the next prime minister.

Zaigham Khan wrote for Prism in October 2023 that Maryam’s “inconsistent style of political activism, characterised by alternating periods of high activity followed by prolonged absences, made it challenging for her to maintain a consistent political persona. This approach seemed to have been employed ostensibly to provide Shehbaz with an opportunity to negotiate with the establishment.”

Maryam and her husband’s convictions in the Avenfield reference were finally overturned by the IHC in 2022, paving the way for her to contest elections.

In January 2023, Maryam was also elevated in the party’s ranks and appointed senior vice president and chief organiser, making her one of the PML-N’s senior-most leaders.

She became active again ahead of her father’s return from self-exile, whipping up enthusiasm and emphasising how he would rebuild the economy that had been battered during the PTI’s tenure.

This time around, she is in the running for one National Assembly seat (NA-119) and one Punjab Assembly seat (PP-159). This will be the first time she is contesting the general elections.

Key stances

  • Maryam has been a vocal critic of the judiciary, claiming that they facilitated former premier Imran Khan and has held them responsible for her father’s ouster in 2017, and has repeatedly called for judges’ accountability.

  • She has also lambasted a former intelligence official for allegedly supporting Imran’s bid to become prime minister and cracking down on the opposition.

  • She has also called for involving the youth in the PML-N’s campaigns and urged the party to award the maximum number of tickets to the youth for the upcoming elections.

  • She had very publicly disowned some of the tough measures taken by the PML-N-led coalition government, including the mini-budget. She also publicly stated that she did not agree with the decision to hike electricity and fuel prices, adding that her first responsibility was to the people in a bid to placate the party’s voter base.

Header artwork by Abdul Sattar Abbasi