Return of the King

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Mian Nawaz Sharif was re-elected President at a meeting of the PML(N) General Council, returning to the office after his 2017 deposition, when he was also ousted as Prime Minister, because the Supreme Court had found him not to meet the criteria of Assembly membership. However, time passed, and his then rival Imran Khan had a turn as Prime Minister, but now the Prime Minister is his brother and successor as party chief, Mian Shehbaz Sharif. He himself is back in the National Assembly, and he has been acquitted of all those charges which had led to his disqualification. Once again eligible, he has returned to the helm of the party he established in 1993, just before the election that year. Even though he was not the formal head of the party, his successor, Mian Shehbaz, had deferred to him on even routine matters, such as distribution of tickets and allocation of Cabinet portfolios, and while the resumption of the presidency may be of some symbolic value, as a rectification of old wrongs, it does not enhance Mian Nawaz’s control of the party.

If anything, it might be taken as a strengthening of the pro-Maryam Nawaz group within the party, not that it really needed any strengthening with Mian Nawaz clearly in her corner. However, what this does mean is that while Mian Shahebaz heads the government, and a party government supported from the outside, he is no longer head of his party. It might explain the PMLN)’s anxiety to have the PPP come on board, in connection with which a PPP delegation met him recently.

The PPP has got to consider the possibility that Mian Nawaz may wish to exert his weight within the party, and take the political office to which the party office entitles him. Of course, that means that his daughter Maryam may no longer continue as Punjab Chief Minister. That will not resolve the PPP’s dilemma, of whether to support a party which it expects to be its main opponent in the next general election. It was perhaps an inevitability that Mian Nawaz would reclaim the party office, though whether he is content to remain as head of a party with the federal and the largest provincial government, remains to be seen. It should not be forgotten that his departure as PM in 1999 and 2018 were both because he had offended powerful circles, and it is not yet known whether all has been forgotten and forgiven.

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