Maryam Nawaz set to become PML-N’s face as Sharif brothers face exile
Islamabad: Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is all set to lead the crisis-struck Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The decision was taken by Nawaz Sharif in a meeting with senior party leadership before he returned to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail on May 7, as his six-week bail expired. Sharif is serving a seven-year sentence given out by an accountability court over Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference in December. He has appealed the verdict in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), where the case will be heard on June 19.
Sources within the PML-N say that Sharif is confident that he will be set free, and has made plans for the party’s future either way. “Just like the IHC overturned the accountability court’s decision in the Avenfield reference (in September), Nawaz Sharif is confident the Al-Azizia verdict will be overturned as well,” said a senior PML-N leader. “Once released, Nawaz Sharif wants to get proper cardiac treatment in London. The party has been restructured so that it can deal with the challenges in Nawaz Sharif’s absence,” he added.
The formal announcement of the party’s revamp had come on May 2. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was made the senior vice president of the party, followed by 16 other vice presidents from the senior PML-N members. Among these is Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who has taken up the mantle of the party’s leadership amidst the prolonged absence of her father Nawaz and uncle Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N president.
Shehbaz Sharif is already in London having departed immediately after the Lahore High Court removed his name from the Exit Control List (ECL) on April 10. On May 2, Shehbaz further stepped down as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson in the National Assembly, and the PML-N’s parliamentary leader, making way for Rana Tanvir and Khawaja Asif respectively.
While the accountability court hearing the Ashiana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills corruption references against Shehbaz Sharif gave him a 15-day exemption from appearing in court on medical grounds on May 25, party insiders further reveal that he is unlikely to return to Pakistan in the near future.
Meanwhile, it has been decided that in the absence of the two Sharif brothers, their children, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz will lead the PML-N. Their roles will be similar to the ones their fathers had, with Maryam Nawaz embracing the senior position and Hamza Shehbaz, already the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, taking over the matters in Pakistan’s largest province.
The new leadership was immediately visible at an Iftar party hosted by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on May 20. The gathering, which brought together opposition parties, including members of the Qaumi Watan Party and the Pashtoon Tahaffuz Movement, was headlined by the union of the three heirs of their respective parties and the proclamation of a united front against the incumbent government.
The PML-N has further decided to launch nationwide protests against the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government after Eid. At the forefront of these protests would be Maryam Nawaz who has recently upped the ante in her anti-government remarks, most notably targeting Prime Minister Imran Khan, implying that he was selected by the all-powerful military establishment and was not popularly elected.
“Given the duress caused to the nation, given the rising prices of gas, electricity, and commodities, the incompetence of the government will lead to its demise,” said Maryam Nawaz while addressing a party meeting in Bahawalpur on May 22.
While there has been speculation of a power struggle between the Nawaz and Shehbaz camps, PML-N insiders maintain that there is complete unity within the party. Hamza Shehbaz’s prominent presence in the rally that took Nawaz Sharif to Kot Lakhpat Jail, and Maryam Nawaz led PML-N participation in the meeting hosted by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was designed to convey this message.
“Maryam Nawaz stepped into politics the day she was born. Her father has been the Chief Minister of Punjab twice, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan thrice, so no one understands the practical politics of the country better than her. Just the fact that she has been formally given a position in the party has rattled the government. Just wait and watch what happens next,” said PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb.
Senior PML-N leader, and a close aide of Nawaz Sharif, Pervaiz Rasheed maintains that Maryam Nawaz is all set to take over the party leadership. “Maryam Nawaz is all set for her political responsibilities and is willing to pay any price for it. This is because she wants to repay the love of the masses that she has received. A true leader repays the love they receive, by giving love in return,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ruling PTI is expected to welcome Maryam Nawaz with the same jibes that it has deployed against the Sharif family over the course of this decade. Maryam Nawaz had been convicted by an accountability court along with Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield reference weeks before last year’s election. “This is the same woman who said she has no property in London or Pakistan. She has been convicted herself as well. How can she be promoted? She has lied about her own property. Promoting her is the same as glorifying corruption,” said Murad Saeed, PTI leader and Federal Minister for Communications.