Is there a method to Sharif’s madness?
In a fiery press conference recently, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif warned Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to step down or face a long march aimed at dislodging him.
Claiming the high moral ground, Mr Sharif said that since Gilani was convicted, he has lost all moral reason to continue in office. Sharif’s newfound love for the judiciary is well-known. Ever since he returned from exile, he has proved to be the most ardent champion of judicial supremacy and rule of law.
If there are people around who want to talk about an obscure incident in a distant past where some PML-N parliamentarians stormed the Supreme Court to save their leader Nawaz Sharif from the ‘judicial activism’ of then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, then those people are misreading a situation in which democracy was saved from an errant Supreme Court chief justice. But let bygones be bygones.
Before we look deep into the politics of agitation, let’s see if there is a method in the proverbial madness. What do Sharif and the PML-N want to achieve from this march to end a government which is on its fag end, anyway? The last budget of the PPP-led coalition is just around the corner and the Election Commission has already indicated that it will be ready with fresh voter lists by the end of the month. Sharif’s detractors point out that he ditched his allies time and again, starting from his pledge to boycott the February 2008 elections — in leading the fuss about the memo — and then joining the government in the passage of the Twentieth Amendment. The PML-N and the Sharifs would be on their own during this phase of agitation if it began; the party has two major obstacles in the way of its political survival: Imran Khan and PML-N’s dismal track record in Punjab.
The steep rise in Imran’s popularity is threatening to push the PML-N back to the wall in their base of Punjab. Perhaps that may then partly explain the threat for a long march because it may allow the party to launch a mass mobilisation campaign in the name of a protest against the government. The party will now try to appeal to voters in urban Punjab to offset the challenge posed by Imran Khan as the fast fading PPP exits the stage.
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