PML-N has been afforded a rare opportunity to give the ruling PTI a tough time inside and outside the parliament after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended the accountability court’s verdict in the Avenfield reference.
On Wednesday, the IHC moved to suspend the accountability court’s judgment, setting Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar free on bail.
The respite might be short-lived for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as the case remained pending in court, but political analysts viewed the suspension of the Sharifs’ jail term a rare boon ahead of by-elections.
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Background discussions with senior PML-N leaders suggested that the PML-N hoped to eke out maximum political benefit after the release of the former PM from Adiala Jail.
By-polls are scheduled to be held on 11 National Assembly, 13 Punjab Assembly, nine Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and two seats each of Sindh and Balochistan Assembly.
PML-N, it is learned, is eyeing to secure most seats in Punjab, considered to be its stronghold.
The party is also eyeing to capitalize on the death of Nawaz’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz. Kulsoom breathed her last on September 11 in London after her year-long battle with cancer. She was brought to Lahore and buried at Jati Umra. The PML-N announced a three-day mourning period and described the deceased as the “mother of democracy”.
Interestingly, after Nawaz’s government was toppled by former military ruler General (retired) Pervez Musharraf on October 12, 1999, Kulsoom played a pivotal role in keeping the party unified in face of substantial challenges. Kulsoom Nawaz, who is still a popular political icon among PML-N supporters, the N-League hopes that the party would be able to attract sympathy vote in the by-polls.
The PTI-led coalition government took some unpopular decisions in the mini-budget announced on Tuesday, increasing the incidence of taxes on the salaried class besides hiking electricity and gas tariffs.
PML-N leaders insisted that this would allow them to outperform the PTI in the by-elections.
“This is a much-needed respite,” commented a PML-N senator, requesting anonymity, on the release of the Sharifs.
“The party was in disarray. Workers and leaders alike were disheartened. Our party’s (political) future was uncertain. In his (Nawaz’s) absence, the party appeared to be without hope. Shehbaz Sharif’s leadership was rife with internal rifts, resentment and all that. Nawaz’s release would help settle things (within the party).”
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Veteran PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah told that Nawaz, Maryam, and Safdar should have been released a long time ago.
“Since day one, our stance has been categorically clear: Mian Sahib, his daughter, and son-in-law were victims of a flawed accountability process akin to a witch-hunt. It is heartening to see that justice has finally been served. IHC has done the right thing. We hope justice will prevail in future too.”
Sanaullah said Nawaz would start regular political engagements after the Ashura (Moharram 10).
“He will lead from the front the way he (always) did in the past and guide his party through all challenges.”
A senior party functionary, who is a close confidant of the former prime minister, said that Nawaz would soon hold a meeting of all PML-N’s by-election candidates at Jati Umra at Raiwind.