Final gambit

With their party leaders incarcerated, how will the PML-N woo voters in the last few days before the election? KK Shahid investigates

Final gambit
Friday the 13th became a horror show for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the rally put together to receive former prime minister and the party’s leader Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz could not reach Allama Iqbal International Airport.

Nawaz and Maryam were arrested by officials from National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as part of the accountability court verdict in the Avenfield reference and flown to Islamabad.

While the official party narrative has been that the hordes of workers and supporters couldn’t reach the airport owing to a combination of the strength of the crowd and the barricades put up, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif has come under severe criticism by senior party leadership, with the events fanning the claims of there being a rift within the party between Nawaz’s and Shehbaz’s families.

What has further fuelled the fire is senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif’s claim that the party had decided “two days in advance” that the rally will not go to the airport, considering the expected blockages. While the PML-N leadership has denied Asif’s claims and even maintained that the former foreign minister didn’t even attend the party meeting that he cites, enough damage has already been done to put a question mark on the unity of the party days before the general elections.
Maryam Nawaz in her audio message told party workers that she had come back despite her mother's ailment, and that she would have been on the ground fighting had she not been in jail

With the party running out of time to woo the yet-to-be-convinced voters, it is now time for the PML’s final roll of the dice. And that, as multiple conversations with the party leadership has revealed, is to continue playing the victim card and paint a ‘world against us’ picture.

“The treatment meted out to a former prime minister of Pakistan at Adiala Jail shows how the party is being targeted,” says PML-N leader and former federal information minister Maryam Aurangzeb. “The anti-rigging cell of the ECP is informed on a daily basis that the PML-N workers are being intimidated. There is footage of the party’s banners being removed as well.”

The PML-N has criticised the decision of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday to adjourn the hearing appeals against Nawaz and Maryam’s conviction until after the polls. The party is using the decision to further drive home their narrative that the military, judiciary along with their political rivals have all united to deny the PML-N the ‘inevitable’ victory on July 25.

Even so, party insiders have confirmed that the party’s original plan was to help get Nawaz and Maryam out before the elections and go on a spree of rallies. Now they are relying on audio recordings of the two which the party is vying to distribute far and wide.

“The rivals do not know that the jail cannot undo my relationship with the masses. Neither any dictator could break off that relationship in the past nor those pulling the strings would be able to do so today,” Nawaz Sharif said in a recording, urging his voters to come out of every nook and corner of the country to deal a ‘crushing blow’ to the opposition.

Continuing with their pursuance of emotional appeal, Maryam Nawaz in her audio message told the party workers that she had come back despite her mother’s ailment, and that she would have been on the ground fighting had she not been in jail.

“Controlling my emotions, I have come here and surrendered to the law of the land. I appeal to you all to pray for my mother’s health so that I can see her fit and hug her,” she said.

The PML-N leaders maintain that even though this wasn’t Plan A, the messages being delivered by Nawaz and Maryam from jail will make the desired impact on the voters just days before the elections.

“Despite the PML-N and its election campaign being targeted, Nawaz Sharif’s slogan of vote ko izzat do is resonating across the country,” said Pervez Rashid, another PML-N leader and former minister.

However, Rashid maintained that the marginalising of Nawaz Sharif had already made the elections ‘controversial’, saying that it’s not just the PML-N that has been suffering because of the sidelining, but the entire country.

Even so, despite the party chief being in jail and murmurs of internal rifts growing, the PML-N leadership is genuinely confident of winning the upcoming elections. The consensus within the party is that despite the pre-poll decisions and actions against us, if the elections are held transparently, they would do enough in Punjab to form the next government.