The long drawn political deadlock that ended with Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification has plunged the nation into deeper political uncertainty. Tales of grief, horror, and loss continue to make rounds on media.

Nawaz Sharif who has had a bumpy road with his political career has served three distinct stints as premier but did not get around to completing a full term. Had he lasted till 2018 elections, he would have been the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full term.

But that did not happen. And although Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified as Prime Minister, but still remains the party leader. After being unceremoniously ousted for being dishonest, he may no longer be fit for office but occupies a key party position. The accession of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a loyalist, to the seat of prime minister is testament to the fact that members of Nawaz Sharif’s party still hold Nawaz Sharif’s desires in high esteem. And the announcement to put forward Kulsoom Nawaz, his wife, to contest the vacant seat in parliament means Nawaz Sharif’s involvement in politics will continue one way or another.

The verdict that gained widespread media attention has left Nawaz Sharif with little de jure power but has ceded plenty of de facto power into his hands. The resounding response from supporters on his journey home, the chants of “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”, and the defiant show of power after court verdict bears witness to the public clout he enjoys.

Theoretically speaking, his rapport with followers gives him enough power over a party that continues to hold a hefty majority in parliament. If party members elected to parliament are blindly endorsing his decisions, comparing the situation with historian Edward S Ellis’ “Toy Parliament” is not a far-flung idea. A toy parliament, as described by Ellis, is a parliament where the dictator’s legislature is a mere rubber stamp. Although the concept of toy parliament was used in context of Turkish parliament created in 1876 to please European powers, the resemblance with modern day politics is not remote.

Nawaz Sharif appeals to a sizeable segment of the society. The degree of popularity enjoyed by Nawaz Sharif gives him an unmistakable authority over his party – a party that might show reluctance in disagreeing with him. The recent introduction of election bill that envisages electoral reforms could well be an allusion to these powers. The confidence with which Nawaz Sharif announced in the last leg of his home-coming journey that constitution should change could allude to the fact that parliament will sanction it without careful thought or personal investment in the outcome. And if that happens, even though the bill in question will be put to vote, it will be no more than a formality party members in legislature are expected to legitimize.

When a toy parliament is in place, as democratic as parliamentary vote sounds, it has no real power. It is there to align legislature with dictatorial agendas. It is there to create an artificial illusion of legislature: a majestic but theatrically-set vote with a preordained outcome.

When a toy parliament is in place, sessions of parliament are closely scripted and tightly controlled events of pre-set rituals. The orderly proceedings of the parliament and the pre-determined outcomes are nothing but predictable. 

The concept of toy parliament, though historic, is not too far-fetched even in the modern world. The Chinese legislature, for instance, the largest legislature in the world, is little more than rubber stamp for party decisions. While some voting does take place, it is done merely to stamp proposals.

So when does a parliament seize to be a toy parliament? The answer without much stretch of imagination is when it flat-out rejects unworthy considerations put before it by top executives. When legislative delegates have the audacity to cast a NO vote. When legislative delegates are ready to offer abstention when needed. When legislative delegates use power of vote not to do things that are convenient, but things that are right.

A parliament seizes to be a toy parliament when power of vote becomes more important than its ritual-laden sessions. When great strides are taken to reach out to stakeholders to solicit input. When proposals are debated in order to make revisions to draft laws. When proposals have to pass close scrutiny (like Washington gridlock) of an even more powerful entity that is there to keep check on the otherwise unfettered powers of executive government. And when this starts to happen, the role of parliament becomes increasingly more meaningful and important in governance.

The weight in Nawaz Sharif’s proposals when it comes to party decisions is decisively indicative of his position in the party. The N in PML-N lends itself to numerous interpretations but the most important one is about Nawaz Sharif’s influence on party decisions. And the way things are going, letting go of the N in PML-N is not high on party’s list – at least for now.