A new National Assembly taking oath is always a mega event. But this time around it was a way bigger event. Not just because it’s for the first time that the military curbs its craving for political power-directly, that is-for over a decade now and the third Assembly takes off in a row.
Not also because who came in and who went out. Here is why: it was not simply about one party losing an election and another party winning it. The gap between the two was wide. Actually, very, very wide. As Imran Khan was reading his oath on his way to wear the Crown, his chief opponent Nawaz Sharif was, as TV screens showed in split screens, bundled into an armoured car from the infamous Adiala Gallows to be taken to the dreaded Accountability court. Call it irony, fate, whatever, the contrast was touching-almost like a scene stolen from some Shakespearean tragedy.
A euphoric Imran Khan was ushered into the Assembly amidst thundering applause, a battalion of his newly inducted mix of ‘electable’ old horses and youthful Insafians enthused with their peculiar vision of New Pakistan . At the same time, Nawaz Sharif was being shown on split TV screens bunkered in armoured car, his pale face donning a blank expression from behind grilled window. It was difficult to say whether he was sad, angry or simply lonely. Gone were those party enthusiasts who, while his party was in power, showered rose petals on his motorcade of 25 plus BMW official Beamers. Power politics is so cruel. Perhaps he forgot this basic lesson of history when he chose to return from London hoping to see hundreds of thousands risking their lives at Lahore Airport.
While Talals, Saads, Abid Sher Alis of the world had reasons to stay at home, mourning defeats, some 81 party MNAs taking oath at the Assembly nearby seemed oblivious to Nawaz Sharif’s misery. His leading lights were seemingly at ease. N’s Chief thunderer, Khawaja Asif actually looked happy that he was able to bring into Assembly a whole tonga (horsecart) of his family including his wife and niece through seats reserved for women. Malik Perviaz was happier as he got his wife and son inducted into the Parliament. Many others had bigger family members imported in the House. Even the fall from power-and grace- had not deterred N League from giving up old dynastic ways. Not a word was uttered about Nawaz Sharif. As if nobody realized what he might be going through with his daughter Mariam in jail, wife in critical condition, two sons declared as absconders, the whole empire at stake.
But then there was one person who had worry written all over his face-Shahbaz Sharif. He kept a wooden face, squirming on his seat. It was obvious that he didn’t know whether to fight or to duck under a barrage of corruption cases. He had to earlier face an onslaught of very angry party members, let’s call them Mariam or Nawaz group. The parliamentary party wanted to him to stand up and fight.
Problem was that he didn’t know how to fight. It’s one thing to be an administrator, for which he was trained at Ittefaq foundary, ordering babus all day long. And a totally different ball game to lead parliamentary opposition on the front foot. He never attended Punjab Assembly, leave alone sitting in opposition. Last time he had to do that once in 1990s he left for London leaving the job to Pervaiz Elahi.
More importantly, he doesn’t want to fight. He doesn’t want to follow his brother’s example. Which is why there is a genuine pressure for him to let another person from the party lead the party. He faces a multi pronged crises. There is opposition from within the party from Mariam group and then Perviaz Elahi is out to break away his Punjab party. And he doesn’t have his soul mate Chaudhary Nisar to help him. Too much to do for one little man.
In contrast, the PPP camp was the happiest. It retained its Sindh fortress with a bigger margin. Bilawal Bhutto made his debut in the National Assembly. His mother would have been so proud of him-except that the moon was eclipsed by Dad Zardari. Chances are that as long as Zardari lives Master Bilawal would continue to remain in his dark shadows. But then all was not hunky-dory for the PPP. Swords of corruption cases hung on the Zardari family. Who knows what they might have in store.
For Imran Khan and his PTI, this was the culmination of a 22-year struggle. He finally dismantled the 35 year business and political order and was all set to sow the seeds of ‘Naya Pakistan’-whatever that means.
But even PTI has a lot to worry about. Imran kept a somber face. Perhaps he realizes that the task ahead is no rosy lane. He doesn’t have much time. He’s already under clouds for his first two appointments of KP CM and National Assembly Speaker. Asad Qaiser doesn’t have the gravitas to run the National Assembly even if he wins the elections. All eyes are set on who Imran selects as his Punjab Chief Minister and in his Federal Cabinet. One more mistake and the opposition and the media will come after him with guns blazing-forgetting his so-called revolutionary agenda. Either he has to lead or be lead. Hope he’s done his homework. For high hopes have a way of changing course very quickly.
Among the losers, Chaudhary Nisar’s record spell of eight consecutive electoral victories finally came to an end. Other heavyweights as Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Dr Farooq Sattar, Danial Aziz, Abid Sher Ali-not to forget Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The entire Jamaat I Islami got decimated despite joining the MMA. Is there a lesson here?