NA 120: Victory for the ballot and a new narrative

September 18, 2017 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan , POLITICS

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Imad Zafar


Stop us if you can. This was the message hidden in Maryam Nawaz‘s victory speech after a win in Pakistan’s NA 120 elections.

The by-election in NA 120, Lahore was the toughest election Sharif’s party had ever fought. The disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his decision to fight back against the “invisible forces” created a lot of problems for the Sharif family and their political party. Sharif was asked to quit politics along with his family but decided to fight back.

His travel from Islamabad to Lahore after the disqualification started the invisible brutal war between Sharif and the establishment. During his journey Sharif attracted huge crowds throughout the GT road where he openly challenged the establishment. Though a few of his advisors and even his younger brother were against the strategy of fighting the establishment, Sharif decided that enough was enough and that another compromise would bring them nothing. During his recent tenure he made a number of compromises with the establishment in order to move forward but each created a new problem. Sharif realized very late that he was unacceptable to the establishment as he had an alternative national narrative that promoted economy, focused on good relations with India and other hostile countries and his change of stance from conservative to a liberal and progressive leader was enough to oust him. So after the successful long march from Islamabad to Lahore Sharif was given a tough time.

Once again the judiciary was used and new cases are about to open in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). If this was not enough the establishment put all their weight behind the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and Imran Khan in the by-elections. As Sharif was out of the country for his wife’s treatment it was all left to his daughter Maryam Nawaz to run the election campaign and to fight against all the odds. The banned outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was given a political space with the name of Milli Muslim League and about 35 to 36 more independent candidates were nominated to dent Sharif’s right wing vote bank.

If that was not enough the forced disappearance of local political leadership of the PML-N one day before the election made it an almost impossible task for PML-N to win this by-election. Amjad Nazeer Butt, Nadeem Vaien and Ismat Khan all went missing just before the day of the election. This was the first time in Lahore that political activists went missing. These local leaders had a huge number of voters with them and after their disappearance and threats to other local leaders many voters decided not to vote.

The rift between the Sharif family on the next leadership of PML-N took Hamza Shahbaz and Shehbaz Sharif out of the scene, so it was Maryam Nawaz all alone against the establishment, Mr Khan and jihadi organizations in the mask of political parties. Maryam cleverly ran the election campaign around the anti-establishment narrative and successfully played the victim card. On election day it was not normal. Voters of PML-N were denied casting their vote, the process deliberately made slow as thousands of voters in the queues were not given extra time to cast their vote. It was a petty rigging style of the establishment. But the voters who did cast their votes made sure that their numbers were enough.

It was a closely contested election but finally Sharif’s PML-N party won it with a margin of almost 15 thousand votes. Maryam Nawaz, the architect of this win and the mind behind the anti-establishment stance, in her victory speech said it all. She unlike her father did not hide anything and did not chose to remain  cautious. She said it loud and clear that to vote is the only option by which democratic forces can be ousted. She openly criticized the judiciary and establishment nexus. It was a speech that further deepened the gulf between the establishment and Sharif but has certainly given a new hope to many liberals and democratic minds that she means business and is ready to take on the establishment.

The slogan Rok sako to Rok lo (stop us if you can) says it all that the war between democratic forces and the establishment is entering the final round. The establishment has learnt the lesson that the power of the ballot is not an easy one to supress, but the worrying sign is the entry of banned outfits in politics by the establishment and the forced disappearances of political activists. This therefore means that the battle will get uglier and uglier and will likely result in more disappearances of political activists and journalists dissenting from the narrative of establishment. It can also cost Nawaz Sharif or his daughter Maryam Nawaz their lives as there is a tradition in Pakistan that whenever a political leader becomes popular and asserts his/her authority he or she gets eliminated. The graveyard in Garhi Khuda Baksh where the entire Bhutto family is buried says it all that it is the most difficult thing in Pakistan to go against the establishment.

Nawaz Sharif and his daughter knowing all these facts still decided to take the battle against the establishment and no one can deprive them from the credit of this brave stance. Now it seems that Maryam Nawaz will head the PML-N party and her bold stance against the establishment will put the entire party in a very difficult test. One can easily predict that many political leaders will quit the party as this will actually bring the wrath of the establishment on the whole PML-N.

Whether Sharif wins or loses is irrelevant as the path chosen is above victory or defeat. Sharif has successfully created a narrative of peace, progress, economic development and civilian superiority. On the other hand the narrative of the establishment based on hatred towards neighbours and the use of jihadist and extremists as strategic assets has weakened. The recent victory of Sharif’s party is evidence in this regard. Will Sharif and his daughter be able to make history by defeating the rotten narrative of the establishment or will they meet the same fate of the Bhutto family, only time will tell. For now, after the results of the NA 120 by-election, the power of the ballot has ousted the power of the gun. It is still a long journey but Sharif defeating the narrative of the establishment in this by-election has created hope that one day the ballot power will bury the power of gun forever.





Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.

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