Islamabad: A surprised victory of opposition parties’ unity to get control of Upper House (Senate of Pakistan) of the parliament against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) indicates more challenges for the ruling party ahead in the next general elections.

The combined efforts of opposition parties and archrival groups of the ruling party managed 57 votes to clinch the chair of Senate against 46 votes of the PMLN candidate, which has the highest number of seats. The victory, with unexpected number of votes, propagated as backed by the might of military establishment to knockdown Nawaz Sharif, ousted chief of the PMLN, proved a big blow to the ruling alliance, ringing alarm bells for the next general elections, likely to be held in mid-2018.

The stunning defeat of the ruling PMLN is further followed by appointment of Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of PMLN chief and sitting chief minister of the most populated and developed province of Punjab, as new president of the party, which, further marginalizes formal role of elder Sharif.

The criticism on this unusual victory of the opposition after the Senate elections targeted mighty military establishment terming it a dark-day in the political history of Pakistan because untraditionally the chair went to the group having less number of votes.

“The political class is divided because of military-judiciary-media are combined nowadays. Horse-trading in the Senate elections and the PPP and PTI unity to win the favour of establishment are reminiscent of the 1990s. And we all know how that turbulent decade ended. While a direct military coup is not on the cards, there is ample room for coup by other means. And it has already begun,” Raza Rumi, writer and editor of a national daily believed.

Furthermore, judicial activism of Saqib Nisar, sitting chief justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan, by taking up matters of release of development funds by the government(s) and transferring top bureaucracy in different provinces for providing free and fair environment for next general elections clearly indicates political situation in days to come. Moreover, a recent interaction of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, sitting army chief further questions the role of military establishment in the political developments ahead of next general elections.

Senior journalist and political analyst Imtiaz Gul, recently, after some interaction with military side and drawing conclusion from the statements from both sides – ruling but troubled PMLN and General Headquarters (GHQ) – also did not rule out chances of former PM Sharif in a head-on confrontation with military-judiciary establishment.

He thought army at the moment has firm belief in “protecting and preserving the integrity of all state institutions (Parliament, judiciary and military) as much as in upholding the rule of law (through accountability) on the way to free and fair elections – come what may.” He also observed that subversion of the judiciary or its rulings would also not be allowed in days to come and political elite has to admit the judicial decisions to follow the course for free and fair elections. Gul said military establishment believes that the decisions of judiciary be respected and the institution should not be humiliated if its decisions are not liked by someone (in political elite).

“However, we have to wait for the judgments of cases against former PM Sharif in National Accountability Bureau courts,” he further told Truth Tracker, adding, “Until and unless these cases are not adjudicated it will be difficult to present a clear picture of political scene in days to come.”  He believed that Senate elections have given a major shock to the ruling PMLN but the dynamics of general elections are always different. “If Sharif is proven guilty by the court it will affect its moral position,” he viewed.

Another major challenge, which PMLN is facing at the moment, is to take the political narrative of elder Sharif by his younger brother who has been given the head-ship of the party few days ago. The narrative of younger Sharif is not confrontational but co- operational and it is contrary to the political moves of elder Sharif, who actually hold the vote bank of the party. In his earlier speeches, he has been advising his party leader – elder Sharif – to not listen to the elements in the party with hawkish approach against institutions. There are chances if new PMLN president continues to follow his path he might face difficulty or grouping within the party, particularly, from the elder-Sharif loyalists. And can PMLN survive minus Nawaz that remains a key question.

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