And we are back at square one. As Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) declares Nawaz Sharif the Quaid (leader) of the party for life, one can’t help but wonder if the exercise of removing him from party leadership had any result – or was worth it at all. Effectively Nawaz remains the leader of the party, and the honorific tittle affirms it further. What’s more, being a symbolic tittle only, it cannot be stripped away by the judiciary nor can the party fall foul of the recent Supreme Court (SC) verdict. We are back where we were a few months ago – with a disqualified Nawaz Sharif ratcheting up the criticism of the judiciary.
However the PML-N Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting at the Sharif family’s Model Town residence in Lahore has changed some very crucial things. Shahbaz Sharif has been named the interim president of the party – a post for which he stood unopposed. While Nawaz is the Quaid, with this nomination Shahbaz Sharif is set to be the party’s leader inside the circles of power – and the next possible candidate for Prime Minister – assuming the PML-N manages to form a government again.
Considering the confusion, wild speculation and the many embarrassing U-turns taken by the party following the Nawaz’s initial disqualification, the party has done well to quickly and unanimously unite behind a new leader. It has also done well to stifle any outward impression of a split between the two branches of the family; with the image Maryam Nawaz – another putative leader – embracing Shahbaz Sharif being widely circulated. However, the absence of party stalwart Chaudhry Nisar shows that the party many not be as monolithic as it wishes to appear.
Although the term “interim” still implies space for change, we can reasonably expect the party to contest the future election with this setup; the younger brother as the face of the organisation while the elder serves as the kingmaker in the background.
Regardless, the following months will be a tough test for the interim president. He can either go with the stance of the former party president and continue confrontation with the judiciary or try and make amends with the two institutions that the party has a rift with. Shahbaz Sharif is also expected to come up with his own policy stance and agenda – something that serves as his personal manifesto for the election – all eyes are on him now. The decisions that he takes, or lets Nawaz Sharif take, can make or break the party in the next general elections.