In May 2013, the PML-N made a triumphant election comeback under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, who trod very carefully than ever before after his two previous governments sent packing in the 90s without completing their mandated tenures.
While his party managed to weather powerful political storms of its trying times and survived through thick and thin and draws near to the end of its five-year term in power this time round, Sharif had hard luck for being unable to complete his third tenure in office.
The most unlucky PM?
Sharif remains most unlucky prime minister in the country’s history for being catapulted into power for three times yet unable to complete his full-term. He, however, is lucky in terms of completing four years in office, which is more than his previous tenures.
Sometimes, it was the opposition that gave the government troubles, and at times the latter itself asked for troubles because of mishandling on political fronts, be it 2014 sit-ins over alleged massive rigging in 2013 elections, the Panama Papers, the Dawn leaks, ties with the security establishment or Khatm-e-Nabuwwat controversy.
After coming to power in 2013, the PML-N promised to pull the country out of the terrible mess of rising militancy, chronic power blackouts, a near-collapsed economy, an upward spiral of circular debt and rampant corruption.
With an overwhelming majority of seats in the National Assembly, the party was emboldened to introduce radical reforms to fulfill promises it made to the people in its manifesto.
Sworn in as the country’s 18th prime minister, Sharif vowed to fulfill the mandate entrusted upon him by the people of the country. However, tackling enormous challenges facing the country at that time was an uphill task for him.
A cursory look at achievements and failures of the PML-N as well as bumpy rides it had during its five-year term.
What misses in the promises?
The party had promised a lot in its election manifesto but delivered little in terms of economic performance, improving healthcare and education facilities, employment and curbing the inflation.
It promised to increase the economic growth rate to seven per cent by the end of June 2018, but it couldn’t go beyond 5.7 per cent.
The country’s debt burden increased manifold as the government approached International Monitory Fund (IMF) for bailout to avoid a balance of payments crisis and shore up foreign currency reserves.
Quoting the reports of international credit rating agencies, the government claimed to have turned economy around. However, growing foreign debt, depleting foreign currency reserves, dwindling exports, and all time high value of dollar against rupee speaks volumes of the government economic performance.
It rightly claims to have made some achievements such as launching a number of power projects in a bid to overcome power crisis and bringing peace to the country.
The countable gains
Improvement in overall security situation owes in part to a bold stance and courageous efforts of Pakistan armed forces. Major military operations, such as Zarb-e-Azb, and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad to purge the country of terrorism, were launched in the past five years.
According to the government’s own claims, more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity have been added to the national grid.
Besides, the government also launched mega projects worth billions of rupees, such as Lahore and Multan Metro Bus, Orange Line Train, and numerous infrastructure projects with special focus on uplift of big cities of Punjab, especially Lahore. Some of these projects were funded by Beijing under CPEC.
The government conducted the sixth population census after over two decades and that too after directives of the Supreme Court.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) worth $46 billion was launched during the PML-N government, which it claims, was its important achievement.
The PML-N’s five years in office have been a real roller coaster. The key party leader’s disqualification on July 28, 1017 by the Supreme Court dealt a terrible blow to the party, which has now been fighting a battle for survival and retaining its power in the upcoming general elections. It completes its tenure, but will go to the polls more fractured than ever.
There are a host of challenges the party currently faces, including Sharif’s complete exit from power politics, strained ties with the establishment, probable conviction of the members of Sharif family by an accountability court on corruption charges, defections from the party to arch-rival Imran Khan, as well as several MNAs and MPAs facing NAB inquiries.
The breathless first-year
Throughout its five-year term in power, the PML-N never seemed in a comfortable position.
In the first year of its government, the PTI raked up the issue of alleged massive rigging in the 2013 polls, staging a marathon protest along with PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, demanding resignation of the then premier Nawaz Sharif, but the government however, managed to recover from the losses especially with the help of the PPP.
After Panama Papers surfaced, the opposition, mainly PTI, again adopted aggressive attitude to mount pressure on Nawaz Sharif to stand down and face accountability over charges levelled in the leaks.
The ‘Panama Storm’ that jolted Sharifs
Political storm that begun with the Panama leaks in 2016 continued to haunt the government throughout the year and eventually resulted in the inglorious ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on July 28, 2017 and later from electoral politics.
Subsequently, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected as new prime minister to head the PML-N government at the Centre for its remaining tenure in office on August 01, 2017.
The PML-N has also took a hit when Balochistan province saw legislators belonging to the governing party rebel and side with the opposition for a vote of no trust in party chief minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, prompting him to step down from his office.
The change of the command came amid widespread speculations that the Balochistan Assembly will be dissolved ahead of the senate elections held in March this year to deprive the PML-N of gaining control of the upper house of Parliament.
The PML-N replaced the Pakistan Peoples Party as the single biggest party in the Senate in March 3 polls marred by allegations of horse-trading.
A little known politician from a remote part of the southwestern Balochistan province, beat the PML-N candidate Raja Zafarul Haq to clinch the coveted post of the Chairman of the Senate.
Of late, the former premier sparked a controversy with his remarks about the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which made headlines in Pakistan and abroad.
The assertions were of such a serious nature that the National Security Committee, the country’s top civil-military body, had to meet to decry them as misleading and fallacious.
Last month, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, a close aide of Sharif, was removed from office by the Islamabad High Court for “not being honest” under a constitutional provision that had also led to Sharif’s ouster from the office. The court decision to disqualify a political heavyweight, hit the ruling party hard.
Dissidents take the spotlight
There are also voices of dissent within the party against the former premier’s hard-hitting criticism of the judiciary and strained ties with the defence establishment. Much-talked about succession battle and rifts between the Nawaz’s side of family and Shehbaz’s side of family also weighed heavily on the party.
While Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification as premier and then party president blocked his chances of return to the electoral politics- the popular tide seems to be on his side.
Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz draw huge crowds in their rallies, mainly in their power-base of Punjab. Their popular appeal rests on the anti-judiciary rhetoric for sending him packing.
Despite the challenges, the party seems confident about election victory and believes it has much to its credit by way of its performance.
At the same time, it casts doubt over fairness of the next election, pointing towards alleged role of the ‘powers that be’ to block its chances of triumph.