Shahbaz can act as bridge between the party and Army, Maryam and Kulsoom were not in a position to tackle the challenges
Nation special report
LAHORE: Pakistan’s ruling party on Tuesday chose Shahbaz Sharif asits president, officials said, replacing his brother and veteran leader Nawaz Sharif following his latest disqualification by the Supreme Court. The political observers have termed this decision as a well calculated move as there was no option for the party to come out successfully from the present political turmoil.
“The party would have been divided if Maryam Nawaz was selected to head the party and Begum Kulsoom Nawaz is not in a position to tackle the challenged due to her poor health”, the observers opined adding that Shahbaz Sharif is the most suitable politician to head the party and to run the day-to-day party affairs.
“But would this decision can last as in the light of Supreme Court’s latest decision, Nawaz Sharif is no more in a position to nominate anyone for the political portfolio even the nomination for Parliament and provincial assemblies. It is believed that Shahbaz Sharif enjoys good repo with the Army and may act as a bridge between the two entities. But if is convicted in pending cases, what would be the next? The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party also elected Nawaz as “leader for life,” in what will be seen as a provocative move and could anger the judiciary after last week’s Supreme Court verdict that removed Sharif as party leader.
In July, Pakistan’s top court had ended Sharif’s third stint in power for not declaring a small source of income, and the former leader could end up in jail if he is convicted in a separate corruption trial expected to wind up soon. Shahbaz’s elevation as party president will further fuel suggestions that he will replace Sharif loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister if the party sweeps back to power at general elections due in the summer. “A meeting of the party’s General Council will be held on March 6, which would elect Shahbaz as the permanent president,” said senior party official Mushahidullah Khan. Nawaz Sharif will work as a life leader of the party. Despite Nawaz Sharif’s legal woes, the 68-year-old has maintained a tight grip on the party.
Shahbaz, 66, chief minister of the vast province of Punjab, has built a reputation as a competent administrator who gets things done, especially infrastructure mega projects that are the cornerstone of the party’s electoral appeal. Relations between the ruling party and the judiciary have plummeted since Sharif’s ouster in July, with several party officials facing contempt of court notices. Sharif and party officials have painted the Supreme Court verdicts as judicial overreach and a political conspiracy, insinuating that elements of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment are working against the party because Sharif challenged their power. The military denies playing a role. When the Supreme Court ruled against Sharif and ordered his removal from the post of party leader, the verdict also barred Sharif’s chosen candidates from contesting next week’s senate elections under the party banner. The court order overturned a legal amendment by party lawmakers allowing Sharif to stay party president despite being disqualified from public office by the Supreme Court for failing to declare monthly income of 10,000 Emirati dirham ($2,723) from a company owned by his son.
Nawaz Sharif had served as prime minister twice before and each time was removed from office — in 1993 by a presidential order, and in 1999, by a military coup that saw him jailed and later exiled before he returned when General Pervez Musharraf stepped down. The party’s chairman, Raja Zafarul Haq, nominated the former prime minister as “Leader for Life,” saying, “Nawaz Sharif was, is and will remain the leader of PML-N.” Prime Minister Shahid Khan Abbasi endorsed that sentiment. “These are peoples’ decisions and the courts have no right to make such choices,” he said adding; “This is what our party wants.” Supreme Court ruled that a person disqualified from holding public office, as Nawaz was, could not lead a political party, hence Shabaz’s election as “acting president.”
Nawaz resigned as party president after his disqualification, but regained the position in October after the legislature approved the Electoral Reforms Bill, 2017. Section 203 of that bill states that any citizen, except for civil servants, can form a political party and become its office bearer. That law was then challenged in the Supreme Court, which declared it null and void, and Nawaz had to quit his position once again. Addressing the 109-member CWC, Nawaz strongly criticized the judiciary and reiterated his reservations about its recent decisions. Referring to the judges who took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) issued by the former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, he said: “It is the greatest crime when you (forsake) your country’s constitution and take an oath of allegiance to a military dictator.
What is a bigger crime than that?” Shahbaz Sharif, accepting his nomination, said that he would follow the party line and his brother’s work. “I will move forward under the leadership of Mian Nawaz Sharif,” he said. Political pundits see Shahbaz’s presence in the office as a good omen for the party.
“He is non-confrontational and will be acceptable to the establishment,” said Pakistan Today Editor Arif Nizami. Veteran journalist Mujeeb-urRehman Shami agreed. “Shahbaz Sharif is different from his brother. He mostly focuses on development work and is likely to avoid confrontation,” he said.
“This nomination was made with the next general elections in mind,” said Salman Ghani, editor, Current Affairs at Dunya TV. “Shahbaz Sharif enjoys a good reputation and people like him since he carried out development work. He is also the most acceptable person in the party, and his leadership can ensure PML-N’s victory in the coming elections.” The CWC will present its decision at the PML-N’s General Council meeting on March 6 in Islamabad. The council is likely to endorse the decision, confirming Shahbaz as the new party chief.