Former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, announced on September 25th that ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will return to Pakistan on October 21st, 2023. This will be his first visit to Pakistan since his four-year self-imposed exile in England that occurred on the pretext of medical treatment. His return has been long-awaited by his loyal party members and supporters.
An event consisting of one million people will be held at Minar-e-Pakistan. This event will serve to officialize his return to Pakistan. This comeback represents a significant development in Pakistan’s politics and has the potential to reshape the political landscape. However, Nawaz Sharif’s journey from exile to the political arena will not be an easy one as there are challenges he will be required to contend with, considering the fact that the political landscape has significantly shifted since 2018 with new alliances and changing public sentiments.
Nawaz Sharif fled to England on an air ambulance for medical treatment while he was in prison for a seven-year sentence on the basis of corruption charges. According to Pakistan’s anti-corruption court, the former prime minister could not prove the source of income for the steel mills he owned in Saudi Arabia. Despite being disqualified from holding public office, he had passed a revolutionary amendment during his time in office which removed the number of limits that a prime minister can serve. This may assist him in becoming prime minister for the fourth time if the case is overturned.
The circumstances regarding his comeback are obscure as the public speculates whether he is returning to remain a prominent figure in politics, to seek justice, or to lead the nation. Despite the legal battles he is contending with, his return to the political landscape has generated widespread curiosity and anticipation as Pakistani citizens gear up for the upcoming elections. Regardless, the return of Nawaz Sharif to the political arena is a necessity for his party, taking into account the fact that the Election Commission of Pakistan announced the new election deadline as the last week of January.
The party has seen waning political support since Shahbaz Sharif’s one-year tenure as the 23rd prime minister due to high inflation, increased taxes, and political instability. Consequently, their public support has significantly decreased within a span of 5 years. In fact, the leading party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has a more significant political support base with 62% public support. Therefore, in order to counter the opposition party, the PML-N is attempting to rectify its position and narrative.
Proposed Narrative for Return
Additionally, Shahbaz Sharif stated in a party meeting that the main agenda of Nawaz Sharif is to revive the economy and provide relief to the masses while simultaneously addressing governance and social issues. However, considering inflation has increased to 39.5% compared to last year, it will be difficult to stabilize the economic situation without direct investment, employability, and sources to generate capital. The actual pretext behind the return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan could be to negotiate and close a deal with the establishment. Since Imran Khan is blatantly refusing to negotiate, the PML-N has a fair chance of shaking hands with the establishment and gaining a landslide victory in the upcoming elections.
Diversion of Attention
Moreover, Nawaz Sharif publicly released a statement indicating that several characters including General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Saqib Nisar, Faiz Hameed, and one other ex-general are responsible for bringing Imran Khan into the forefront as prime minister and ought to be held accountable for their actions and for allowing Pakistan to descend down to this perilous state. However, diverting attention towards other entities will not facilitate the PML-N in winning the elections or regaining popularity. Therefore, it is a desideratum that they address public concerns and issues instead of engaging in a confrontation with the establishment and opposition party, PTI.
Previous Accomplishments and Tenures
Nawaz Sharif’s tenure as prime minister from 2013 to 2018 was considerably successful; the rupee was stable, taxes were bearable for the lower echelons of society, and electricity costs were low. Moreover, his government developed several highways and equipped students with laptops. These social services were sufficient to gain high public support and are adequate to be rallied as accomplishments. Consequently, Nawaz Sharif and his party members may leverage these past accomplishments and attempt to provoke public sentiment, which can be readily done as the number of Pakistanis currently living in poverty has substantially increased to 37.2%, according to a report released by the World Bank.
Party Agenda and Future Goals
Nawaz Sharif is returning to Pakistan to revive the party’s image in the political arena. As a result, according to PML-N members present at the recent party meetings, the PML-N has decided to maintain its focus on Pakistan’s economy and the social issues that are plaguing it. This will allow them to remain relevant to people’s needs as Pakistan’s populace currently solely desires relief as opposed to accountability and justice. Moreover, the party intends to “bring about an agro-industrial revolution to transform the economic landscape of Pakistan into one that promises a myriad of employment.”
In a recent tweet, Maryam Nawaz announced that “Nawaz Sharif will end inflation in Pakistan.” Although these statements seem exaggerated, CPI inflation was at 4.7% at the end of Nawaz Sharif’s tenure in 2018 while the CPI inflation stood at 12.2% after Imran Khan’s tenure in 2022. Regardless, the party is bound to recalibrate its electoral strategy, attempt to regain voter support and forge alliances with other parties to strengthen its position in the shifting political landscape.
The return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan could be prolific for the party and its agenda. There are previous accomplishments that can be leveraged by the party to gain more political support for the upcoming election. Additionally, the party members have proposed a list of social grievances they intend to address. However, whether or not they will be able to regain political support and win the upcoming elections, depends upon a plethora of factors including the campaign strategy of PTI, Imran Khan’s willingness to cooperate with the establishment, and the approach used to provoke public sentiment. Thus, nothing has ever been predictable in Pakistan’s politics and this upcoming election is no exception.
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