Is This The Swan Song Of Nawaz Sharif's Politics?

As he landed in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was shown a big crowd in Lahore. Little did he know that it was a result of a two-month-long preparation, and deception by his political team

Is This The Swan Song Of Nawaz Sharif's Politics?

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi often says that "All political careers are destined to end in failure." The General Election 2024 was a perfect testament to this quote – when it comes to Pakistan’s greatest political name Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. The sadness on his face these days is not because he hasn’t become the prime minister for the fourth time, but because he knows how he will be remembered in this country’s history books: a man who gave up everything only to give up everything one last time. There is a Chinese proverb to the effect that two men of different principles can never act together, and Mian Nawaz Sharif’s last stride in politics was trying to act together with his brother’s different principles and his daughter’s different goals. Above all, he had to abandon his own moral standing to form a very weak government where his coalition is based on a weak friendship with his political archenemies. He must question as to what he gained by coming back, if all he has gotten is the same government that his brother made in 2022 with PDM. 

As he landed in Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif was shown a big crowd in Lahore. Little did he know that it was a result of a two-month-long preparation, and deception by his political team in Pakistan, who promised tickets to 5-6 people in every constituency if they brought 2-3,000 people to the jalsa. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry was going around in every constituency of Punjab and rallying people, making groups, and trying to tell everyone that the ticket is in their pockets. Even overseas workers of PML-N flew into Pakistan because they were told by their leaders that if they were able to bring people, it would guarantee their ticket. This whole process was strategically shortsighted for PML-N because it did achieve the goal of PML-N gathering a big crowd, but it also created a false sense of security in the leadership’s mind and created widespread groupings in almost every constituency. Nawaz Sharif’s treatment at the airport and PML-N’s media appearances started building a perception of “Baat Ho Gayi Hai,” which became the second nail in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s coffin.

For the next three months, over a thousand ticket contenders met with Mian Nawaz Sharif. His daughter’s remarks of “Now everyone wants a PML-N ticket” reflect that the Sharifs were incredibly confident in their work and were eyeing a strong single-party government. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Balochistan and MQM’s announcements, coupled with the rapid end to his corruption cases and sentences, created a very strong perception that PML-N is now going to form a government by itself. PPP’s anger showed that they had also started realizing that they were against the wall in comparison to how things were going for the Sharifs.

As elections were announced, Nawaz Sharif sat in Lahore for almost a month and vetted candidates. For one seat, he was interviewing around 20 candidates. His manifesto was getting delayed, and all PML-N was posting on their social media was videos of candidates praising Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s bravery during their period from 2018-2022 in opposition. As the election campaign proceeded, Mian Nawaz Sharif only did 1/5th of the number of jalsas compared to his 2013 campaign. His speeches only focused on what was the price of things in 2013-18 and what it is now. He completely ignored his brother’s government, and his workers also focused only on 2013-18. 

After a colossal mistake of building an impression that Nawaz Sharif is backed by the Powers That Be, he made another grave mistake of not acknowledging the inflation and bad economy created by his Ishaq Dar in 2023. What he should have done was to try and acknowledge his party’s failure and give hope for tomorrow. Shehbaz Sharif, for his part, knew that Ishaq Dar is not a sensible person to run the economy at all, and so they ought to have distanced themselves from him. Surprisingly, he kept repeating two things: 1) the price of household items in 2013-18 and 2) that Pashtuns of KP get fooled easily. This elitist and racist messaging in his speeches was never seen before. He would do a speech and then invite Maryam Nawaz on stage to give a signal to his workers and the world that she is going to become the future leader of PML-N. It almost seemed as though Maryam Nawaz and Ishaq Dar were controlling Nawaz Sharif, and that his judgment would get clouded because of their suggestions. 

All of this, coupled with growing frustration in the general public over inflation above 40%, back-to-back judicial decisions against Imran Khan, and pressure on PTI from the system (denying them their electoral symbol, arrests of workers, and new cases against candidates), created a perfect storm in the minds of silent voters who went to the polling booths and gave an unprecedented number of votes to PTI. For the first time ever, a political party won a significant number of seats in Punjab while running an anti-establishment agenda. 

This result was not only a big victory for Imran Khan but also the end of PML-N’s political philosophy of passive aggression. Mian Nawaz Sharif came to Pakistan, had all the support of the system, was not facing any opposition in Punjab, and basically was the only horse in the race – and yet still got defeated by a party that was symbol-less and leader-less. 

Almost his entire group of friends in the National Assembly has been defeated, and whenever he goes to the assembly, he faces extreme challenges and chants of “thief/chor” from PTI’s MNAs. He knows if he goes back to the UK, it will be the end of his political career. He also knows that if he continues to support the governments of his brother at the federal level and his daughter in Punjab, and goes on promoting his own family and friends to the top positions and fails a second time, PML-N will no longer be able to survive. The strained fiscal situation, political crisis at hand, and the growing Imran Khan phenomenon will also continue to contribute to a slow and painful political death. 

Arguably, Nawaz Sharif’s career has ended in failure, and it will be an extremely tough year for his brother as well. If his brother’s government fails to provide relief and goes down, Mian Nawaz Sharif and PML-N will run out of any message to give to the public and will be restricted to fewer than 20 seats in the National Assembly next time. 

On the other hand, PTI’s ever growing troubles also mean that a big space has been created for a new political power to emerge. Since the country is in such a bad shape and people have lost faith in all three political parties, the country is now in an economic situation like India was in early 1990s. The only way out of this is to have competent people who have experience in both public and private sector – and who know the system of Pakistan’s government machinery – to form a new political party and start giving solutions and hope to the young and middle aged population of this country.

The writer tweets at: @FarrukhJAbbasi