What Nawaz Sharif’s re-election as PML-N chief means for Pakistan

Oct 5, 2017
A new round of shadow boxing between Pakistan’s de facto leader, Nawaz Sharif, and the country’s military establishment has begun. Sharif showed his continued standing as the country’s most popular and powerful political leader by getting his party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), to amend its constitution and ensure that he heads the party for another four years. This means he will be at the helm of the PML-N when the country goes for general elections next year. What was noticeable was not merely that his party carried out the change, but that there was virtually no protest about the amendment or his re-election.
Sharif was removed from the prime minister’s position after a Supreme Court ruling disqualified him from holding political office because of corruption charges. The general view is that this was engineered by the all-powerful military because of Rawalpindi’s concerns that Sharif emerging as a civilian leader with an unprecedented degree of political power. He faces almost no serious Opposition, especially given that PML-N’s traditional rival the Pakistan People’s Party remains in a leadership transition. Even the corruption charges, a fall out of the “Panamagate” revelations about offshore financial holdings, do not seem to have dented his public support.
Sharif’s next battle will be in the courts. He will probably be indicted for corruption in a few days and then will face a protracted court battle. It seems likely the real struggle will be outside the courts. Sharif will seek to show the degree of public support he commands – his re-appointment as head of the party is the first step in that direction. The message to the military and the judiciary: Attempting to marginalise Sharif could release public protests that they will find hard to handle. It would also ensure any future regime would be wholly lacking in legitimacy. The court of public opinion is being arrayed against the court of establishment manipulation.
Sharif has been toppled from office before. This will be the third time this has happened in his long-chequered history. However, the bellicosity of his public statements seems to indicate that this confrontation may be different from the past. Sharif gives the impression he is prepared to stand up to the generals in a way he was not ready to do so in the past. The consequences for Pakistan’s political future could be considerable if that is the case – and especially if Sharif wins what is likely to be a protracted and turbulent struggle.
Hindustan Times, October 5, 2017

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