ISLAMABAD - The story of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) quietly working on an in-house change plan in Punjab is as old as the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) came on record to express their reservations on the compliance of power-sharing formula with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Punjab.

Every time, PML-Q reacts to what it views breach of the understanding with the PTI, PML-N lawmakers get hope that the leadership would give green signal to the party to move for the in-house change in Punjab. Given the economic turmoil burdening the incumbent government and the fact that PTI does not enjoy the same popularity it once did, one could argue that perhaps an in-house change is on the cards. However, the ground situation suggests a different story.

As few of the top leaders of PML-N including Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal are in jail, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif are out of country, Maryam Nawaz seems to be in a silent mode, the party lawmakers seemingly lack unanimity of views and approach as to how to react even to day-to-day political developments and what to talk about being it part of an anti-government campaign. According to the party sources, the Sharif family is not in direct touch with the party lawmakers in Pakistan and a few of the leaders including Khawaja Asif are in contact with the top party leadership presently staying in London.

Hamza Shahbaz Sharif has been granted bail in Ramzan Sugar Mills case, Rana Sanaullah is also on bail but the developments didn’t seem to have given strength to the party when it comes to an in-house change in Punjab or to be part of any anti-government campaign.

A PML-N MPA from Punjab, Waris Kalloo was quite enthusiastic about in-house change in Punjab. In a video clip available with this scribe also, he said that everything was in place; the number game in Punjab was satisfactory as PML-Q is theirs without any doubt and that they can also find some disgruntled elements in the PTI ranks whenever a move is made. So what has been hindering the party from throwing Buzdar government out? Just required nod from the top party leadership to topple PTI government first in Punjab and then Centre, was the answer. He had no answer to why PML-Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was reluctant in giving green signal for the move at this point in time.

On the other side, PML-N senior leader, Rana Sanaullah, while talking to media a day earlier said that mid-term elections were the only solution to the problems being faced by the country at present. To a question he said: “We will not be part of an interim set up as the mid-term elections are the only way to get rid the PTI government”, thus minimizing the possibility of an in-house change. On the question of silence on part of PML-N leadership in general and Maryam Nawaz Sharif in particular and the party not willing to be part of any anti-government movement, Rana Sanaullah said upon arrival Mian Shahbaz Sharif would host an all parties conference to  take opposition into confidence on national issues. He believed that the opposition parties should devise a unanimous strategy in this regard. However, on a question why the party was not interested to join Bilawal and Fazal-ur-Rehman in their separate anti-government campaigns, the PML-N leader said: We want to sit with both the parties and decide about protest by the PPP and march by the JUI-F.

Opposition leader in Punjab Assembly, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif while talking to media few weeks back, had said that the party has opened their doors. He said in view of talks about an in-house change, the PML-N has opened its doors and windows. He also praised Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi for launching a landmark project of Rescue-1122 during his government. A PML-N MPA from central Punjab told this scribe on condition of anonymity that they have no idea about any plan about the in-house change except the statements by the individuals. He said he has seen nothing of the sort on a meeting’s agenda so far.  

According to the party sources, Shahbaz Sharif is likely to return to the country in March. Even if he decides to take on PTI in Punjab, Pakistan Muslim League-Q remains the vital player in the game. The obviously easy way for PML-N to dislodge the Punjab government is to make an alliance with PML-Q with ten seats. PML-Q is the brick PML-N needs to dislodge to bring PTI wall down. The developments so far has suggested that every time Nawaz-led party expressed their desire for an in-house change in Punjab, it brought PTI and PML-Q more closer. The PML-N desire for change in Punjab might have served as a tool for PML-Q to pressurise PTI to meet their demands. Evidently, PML-N have been trying to mend fences with the PML-Q yet given the scale and depth of personal animosity between the Sharifs and the Chaudharys, it seems hard for the PML-N to convince PML-Q to embrace the Nawaz-led party though there is nothing impossible in politics.

When we discuss the possibility of an in-house change in the Punjab assembly, it is worth mentioning that PTI has 181 members in the Punjab provincial assembly and is supported by the 10 members from the PML-Q, making the total tally of the PTI coalition government in the assembly 191. In a house comprising of 371 seats, only a simple majority of 186 members is required. If PML-Q withdraws its support, then PTI loses the simple majority. PML-N has 165 members in the assembly while the PPP has seven members.

The recent statement by Mian Shahbaz Sharif that party Quaid is not willing to get treatment unless his daughter Mariyam Nawaz reaches London clearly indicates the priority of the Sharif family. At present, the family seems to be the first priority of Sharifs and not the politics. However, according to the party sources, it has decided to start anti-government protest outside the parliament particularly against inflation and price-hike from today. On the other hand, PML-N is still unable to find loose bricks in PTI wall. The wall stood for one and a half year and expected to stand for the remaining over 3 years if the PML-N leadership continues with its policy of wait and see.