As the by-polls on crucial national and provincial seats in Punjab inch closer, the PML-N has swung into action to ensure its victory with a sense of foreboding that its recent shocking fall in the political capital and rising PTI popularity could make its latest electoral task a ‘long shot’.
To counter its arch-rival PTI’s unabated march towards success at the ballot box, the PML-N’s senior leadership has issued stern instructions to the party to fire up its campaign in the province as it “cannot afford to lose seats that traditionally belong to the party”, and has warned of disciplinary action if internal differences were not jettisoned for the sake of unity amid these testing times.
Meanwhile, seized by panic and the prospect of defeat, the party has once again decided to ride on Maryam Nawaz’s wings to heal its fledgling political fortunes by fielding her on the ground to head its canvassing single-handedly – a move that offers another glimpse into the simmering rifts within the political heirs of the Sharif family.
In Punjab, the by-elections are being held in five constituencies. The polls for the NA-157 (Multan) seat are scheduled to be held on Sept 11, while for NA-108 (Faisalabad) and NA-118 (Nankana Sahib) on Sept 25. Similarly, polls will be held in PP-139 (Sheikhupura) and PP-241 (Bahawalnagar) on Sept 11, while polling in PP-209 (Khanewal) will be held on Oct 2.
The multi-party coalition is backing PML-N on four seats — NA 108 Faisalabad, NA 118 Faisalabad, PP 139 Sheikhpura and PP 241 Bahawalnagar — while the coalition will be backing PPP on NA 157 Multan.
Insiders told The Express Tribune that the party was labouring to avert a dreadful scenario where it would end up tasting an embarrassing defeat in these constituencies as it would deal a severe blow to the PML-N’s politics.
The misgivings are not without reason and unrealistic as party leaders cited the nightmarish July 17 elections in the province’s 20 constituencies when PTI managed to breeze through some of PML-N’s pocket boroughs, which the latter had won in the 2018 general elections.
The local leadership has been directed to pull in all available resources to undo the damage done by the July by-election debacle wherein the party only managed to clinch four out of twenty seats.
“The PML-N candidates had won from these constituencies in 2018. The party workers must strive to maintain their hold,” the senior leadership was quoted as saying.
A leader interestingly said that the party has hit virtually rock bottom with July’s defeat. “If worst comes to worst and we lose some seats in these elections, then what,” he apprehended.
“With Imran Khan stuck in other issues of much serious nature and with elections being held elsewhere in the country as well, the damage in case of another humiliating defeat would be far less than what was sustained earlier.”
He said that it seems the party was waiting for Imran Khan to be outlawed.
However, several young and senior party leaders expressed their reservations over the absence of any coherent party narrative and direction.
Another leader speaking to The Express Tribune said that they would have appreciated it if the party before taking on PTI had done some introspection and heard the voices of those who are worried about the party’s future.
He said that the party has no plan of action with them, and still following an outdated playbook. He said that the chances of the party making any descent comeback in these by-elections were slim. He said that the situation necessitates Nawaz Sharif’s immediate return to Pakistan
Hamza to resolve differences
The top leadership has also urged the workers to put their differences on the back burner and get their heads down on the campaign. “All sorts of factionalism in these constituencies should be ended. Disciplinary action will be taken against those who do not resolve differences and those who violate party guidelines,” the leadership warned.
The local leaders of the PPP and other government coalition parties in these constituencies should also be taken into confidence, it added.
The senior leadership has entrusted the task of resolving differences to Hamza Shehbaz who will hold meetings with the important leaders of these constituencies and heads of factions.
The by-polls in Punjab are scheduled on both National Assembly and provincial assembly seats that fell vacant after the resignations of lawmakers.
Maryam to lead campaign
Meanwhile, sources confirmed that PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz is gearing up to address public rallies ahead of upcoming by-polls.
Maryam will zoom around the province to try and tickle the voters out of the woodwork.
Maryam, who on one hand has approached LHC for the return of her passport apparently to fly abroad, will be holding her first rally in Chishtian on Wednesday, while on Thursday she will be holding a rally in Sheikhupura.
According to her political secretary, no plan has been finalised regarding holding rallies in Nankana and Faisalabad – the two constituencies where by-elections are being held on National Assembly seats.
On the other hand, no plan of the former chief minister Hamza Shehbaz has been made official thus far. An MPA told The Express Tribune said that no plan is currently under discussion of Hamza Shehbaz holding rallies, to his knowledge