Pakistan Today – I: PML (N): In a Perfect Storm?

16 Nov, 2000    ·   434

Suba Chandran analyses the status of PML(N) after the arrest of Nawaz Sharif

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) ever since the arrest of Sharif has been fighting to pose a united front. Though the party has not split formally, the danger of such an event cannot be ruled out. 

Since the arrest of Nawaz Sharif and Sharif nominating his wife Kulsoom as the PML acting Chief, the cold war between the two main groups within the PML, came to the fore. One group is led by Begum Kulsoom Nawaz along with some PML leaders who are very close to the Sharifs such as Zulfikar Khosa and Ahsan Iqbal and the other is led mainly by the Chaudhrys – Pervez Elahi and Shujaat Hussain. The Chaudhry group was against both Nawaz continuing to be the party chief and nominating Begum Kulsoom as the party chief. In a press meeting Ch Shujaat Husain openly stated that Nawaz Sharif, following his conviction in two cases, could no longer be the President of the PML according to the amended Political Parties Act (PPA). In the same meeting he reiterated that there could be no acting President of the party according to the PML Constitution. 

Both the groups tried to prove their strength by organising independent meetings. The Sharif group initiated this “strength proving” with its PML Punjab Parliamentary Party meeting at Lahore on 23 August which was attended by 94 MPAs. This was followed up by the Chaudhrys organising another Punjab PML Parliamentary Party meeting on 07 September at the residence of Chaudhry Elahi. Though the pro-Nawaz group tried their best to convince Chaudhrys from not holding the meeting, the latter went ahead with their plans. After the initial efforts to cool down the Chaudhrys failed and knowing that the turn out at Chaudhurys meeting would be more than the August 24 meeting called by pro-Nawaz group, Mian Sharif asked even the pro-Nawaz MPAs to attend the meeting. During the meeting, which was attended by 168 members, Pervaiz Elahi openly accused the pro-Nawaz group for trying to create a rift. 

However, ever since the September meeting organised by the Chaudhrys, the Nawaz group seems to be on the defensive. There are at least three reasons why the Nawaz group will not go totally against the Chaudhrys. First is the realisation of the support the suspended MPAs for the Sharifs. It is very clear from the meetings organised by both the camps that the majority of the PML MPAs support the Chaudhrys and not the Sharifs. Despite being close and chosen by Nawaz Sharif, most of the MPAs do not support Sharif, as he tried to scuttle intra party democracy and attempted to make the party as his family property when he was in power. Many of the leaders, who remained silent then, now openly criticise Sharif for his autocratic ways. This was reflected in the first resolution passed during the September 07 meeting organized by the Chaudhrys, which demanded that organisational and other party matters should be conducted after consulting the MPAs and MNAs.

Secondly, with Nawaz Sharif inside jail, the party needs undivided support from all the groups within the PML fold. The Sharifs understand this now and may not antagonise the Chaudhrys at least in the near future. The third factor is the ongoing efforts to woo the PPP. The Chaudhrys resent any association with the PPP and the initial thinking inside the Sharif group was that if the Chaudhrys oppose such a deal they could be removed from the party and align with PPP and also with the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). However, the Sharifs seemed to have realised that PML minus the Chaudhrys will be a weak force and may not have enough bargaining power vis-à-vis the PPP and the GDA. At least, till a deal is brokered between the PPP and the PML, the Sharifs may not antagonise the other groups within its fold.

The pro-Nawaz group is finding it very difficult to take a decision on its alliance with the PPP and the GDA without antagonising the anti-Nawaz group within the PML. The pro-Nawaz group announced that the Central Working Commiitee (CWC) of the PML could take any decision regarding such an alliance. The anti-Sharif group is against the CWC taking any such decision, as they feel that most of the members of the CWC were unilaterally nominated by Nawaz Sharif and as such prefer the PML Parliamentary Party to take such decisions. Since Nawaz Sharif is very keen on working together with the PPP and the GDA, it is only a matter of time before this becomes the official position of the PML. 

The future of PML unity depends on the Chaudhry group. The issue is not whether they are willing to work with the PPP and the GDA, but whether they would make this a reason for splitting the PML. In case if they split the PML, they may join with the other Muslim League factions along with couple of religious parties to form another front other than the GDA. It is also possible for this group to join with some of the pro-regime parties and work along with the military regime. Given the history of political parties in Pakistan, nothing is impossible. If PPP and PML could come together, why not?