Open Season

The Pakistan Muslim League-N, once the largest party in the country, faces a multitude of challenges for its survival. The biggest of them is a leadership crisis.

By Hafiz Inam | June 2020

The Panama Leaks scandal was the beginning of the end for the then ruling party in Pakistan as it jolted the political status quo of the country. Then Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif bore the brunt of the scandal as the leaks included him among the global leaders who himself or his family owned properties abroad. Thus, the decade-old allegation that he and his family had acquired properties abroad with black money was somehow corroborated by the Panama Leaks.

The scandal gave an opportunity to his political rivals, especially the PTI, to bash him for his alleged corrupt practices and question his legitimacy for the premiership. The hue and cry of opposition parties brought attention of the apex court to the matter. This eventually resulted in the ouster of Mian Nawaz Sharif from office in 2017 at the hands of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on corruption charges.
Since then the party has remained in hot waters and has failed to come out of the crises that emerged one by one. However, the biggest challenge for the party right now is the leadership crisis that is giving a headache to party workers and sympathizers who sincerely expect the reemergence of the PML-N on the political scene, at least in Punjab. Keeping in view the on going power struggle in the party, chances are that a new leadership in the party will surface before the general elections in 2023.

Sources privy to the Sharif family hint at the differences that had crept into the family long before Nawaz Sharif’s third stint of premiership began. It all started when the Sharifs went in exile to Saudi Arabia in 2000 under a deal with then Army Chief General Musharraf and left behind Hamza Shehbaz as a guarantee. Understandably, the decision of leaving behind Hamza as a sole representative of the party was harsh on Shahbaz Sharif but he accepted this fate. Later, when the Sharifs came in power again in 2013, the family of Nawaz Sharif got the lion’s share, especially Maryam Nawaz who was projected as an heir to the throne by the party. She was dubbed as a power-wielder within the government without holding any public office by political opponents. This triggered an internal tussle that has continued till today.

It is a known secret that the party has virtually split into two factions, especially after the apex court’s verdict regarding the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif was announced. Each of the factions is controlled by the families of both the Sharifs, respectively. On the one hand, Hamza Shahbaz – the Opposition Leader in the Punjab assembly – with his father’s consent strives for seizing a commanding position in the party while on the other, Maryam Nawaz is another contender for party leadership. Both groups try to outdo each other for assuming maximum clout in the party. The Hamza-led bloc believes in mending ties with the establishment to come to power whereas Maryam portrays herself as an anti-establishment voice vying for upholding civil supremacy in the country.

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The writer is associated with the Research Team
at Maritime Study Forum, a thinktank based in Islamabad. He can be reached at

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