Stepping up as PML-N’s president under the hanging sword

Shahbaz Sharif has been appointed as the acting president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz by the unanimous agreement of his party, after the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that Nawaz Sharif cannot run the party as president after his disqualification. The decision made by Nawaz Sharif left him no choice, as his first priority for this slot would have been his spouse Kalsoom Nawaz, but she is suffering serious health issues. The second choice could have been his daughter Maryam Nawaz, whilst her future remains unclear as she is facing trial in Panama Leaks Case and her appointment as the chairperson at this stage could have divided the party.

During the league’s central executive committee’s meeting, the elder Sharif nominated his younger brother and directed him to continue with the former’s anti-establishment and anti-judiciary narrative as the newly instated head of the party. This direction will present a dilemma for Shahbaz, as he has always voiced for reconciliation with military establishment and the superior judiciary of Pakistan. His first trial as the party leader might centre on how to adopt a middle ground in order to save the party, as well as his future, from crumbling.

Nawaz Sharif’s decision to appoint Shahbaz has only strengthened the speculation regarding his allegedly ‘monarchist’ mentality, due to his unwillingness to hand over the party’s leadership to somebody outside the ‘House of Sharifs.’ The PML-N leaders believe that Shahbaz is a safe bet, however the current political and administrative issues in Punjab suggest that he is not a safe stake. He has several challenges to deal with.

Shahbazf, who is well-known for his strong administrative skills, has always taken credit for launching mega projects in Punjab, such as the Lahore Metro Bus Project, Multan Metro Bus Project, Ashiana Housing Scheme and Orange Line Train. His projects have always been termed ‘transparent’ and ‘corruption-free,’ although the facts contradict this narrative. These projects are being probed by inquiries headed by the National Accountability Bureau, whose new chairman, Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal, is known for his courage and integrity. Older cases, such as the Hudaibia Mills Case, are still pending.

The Model Town Massacre, in which the police murdered 14 activists from Pakistan Awami Tehrik, is under investigation. The pot continues to boil under Shahbaz Sharif while his involvement in these cases is being investigated.

The arrest of his close aide and a powerful young bureaucrat, Ahad Cheema, by the NAB on charges of corruption in Ashiana Housing Scheme has proved to be a major setback for Shahbaz Sharif. Finding irregularities in the above-mentioned projects will not be a big deal for the investigators. If the corruption-related cases against Shahbaz Sharif are proven, he may suffer the same fate as his older brother. If it happens before the 2018 Election, PML-N will be standing on loose ground.

PML-N stalwarts claim that Shahbaz’s appointment was meant to keep the party united. A pertinent question arises amongst analysts; if Shahbaz is disqualified in the near future, who will be the third president of the party? Will the third president be able to deliver the Sharifs and PML-N from these combustible circumstances?

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