By Aamir Latif
These are testing times for Shehbaz Sharif, who now heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
In an e-mail interview with Anadolu Agency prior to the July 25 general election, Shehbaz Sharif alleged pre-poll rigging and a media blackout, and vowed to mend civil-military relations if he comes to power.
Shehbaz Sharif was three-time chief minister of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous province of Pakistan.
He is proud of what he has done for Lahore, the provincial capital, investing heavily in its infrastructure and initiating the first metro line.
But Shehbaz Sharif, like a loyal brother always shadowed Nawaz Sharif, who dealt with gruelling politics at the national front. With the older Sharif, the former prime minister, serving 10 years in prison and disqualified for life, Shehbaz Sharif has been thrust into the arena of national politics.
In March, he was elected as the party head. He is also the party's candidate for prime minister in the election.
Q: How do you see PML-N prospects in the upcoming elections?
PML(N) is the largest federal party of the country. It polled more than 14 million votes in the previous elections and won all by-elections and local bodies polls convincingly. That gives you an idea of the popular appeal and strength of the party.
Despite engineered defections and every kind of pressure brought on the PML-N ticket holders, the party remains strong and resilient. We have a solid vote bank across the country. During the past 10 years in Punjab and five years at the federal level, PML-N set up benchmarks of dedicated public service. Ridding the country of the twin scourges of terrorism and energy crisis are the shining achievements. We have largely delivered on our promises that PML-N Quaid [leader] Muhammad Nawaz Sharif made with the masses in 2013.
The PML-N has approached the electorate on the basis of its track record of excellent public service. Our case is really simple. If the people are satisfied with our performance, they would vote for us. This represents a marked departure in politics and sets a healthy precedent for future. We are certain that the party will make impressive electoral gains in the polls on July 25.
Q:You often talk about the Turkish model of development at your election rallies? How would you implement that in Pakistan if your party wins the elections?
Turkey is a brotherly country with whom we share the bond of rich history, civilization and faith. Both Turkey and Pakistan have had excellent relations through the decades and their worldview on regional and global issues has been identical. The strong people-to-people bond is the chief highlight of our excellent bilateral relations.
Having said it, Turkey has emerged as a regional economic power, and a robust democracy over the last couple of decades. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been at the heart of huge transformation Turkey has undergone in recent years. President Erdogan and Justice and Development [AK] Party have provided amazing leadership and stability to Turkey at a time when the world continues to face turmoil, unrest and chaos.
I am enamoured of the way AK Party turned around Turkey. The reforms resulted in lifting people’s socio-economic status and further empowering them as stakeholders in a democratic system. Today Turkey is among the privileged G20 countries which speaks volumes of the loftiness of the vision of President Erdogan.
I am particularly impressed by the AK party’s sustained focus on human welfare, making it the basis of wider acceptance of democratic system. I think that a development model that makes the well-being of the masses its driving spirit will outlive all upheavals.
Q: If PML(N) wins the polls, Will you be comfortable with the powerful military establishment, which is apparently against Nawaz Sharif??
The internal and external challenges of Pakistan are deep and multifaceted. The fluid regional milieu has further added to their complexity. Pakistan can effectively cope with these challenges through a collective approach and a national wisdom.
I am of the considered view that there is a need of a grand debate among all stakeholders of Pakistan, be it parliament, political parties, judiciary and the military establishment to sit across the table and formulate a national response on the key challenges. We as Pakistanis need to agree on a broad national agenda to take the country forward and provide it much needed stability.
The country ill-affords another term of five years marked by agitation and sit-ins. Massive opportunities await Pakistan as the CPEC projects go into implementation and completion phase. What is required is the continuity and predictability of policies?
So I have no problem working with the Pakistan military to rid the country of myriad of challenges. Look at how strong civil-military cooperation resulted in eliminating terrorism and making Pakistan peaceful. We need this coordination to continue. The interest of Pakistan is supreme and must come ahead of everything else. So I will be comfortable with anyone who works for the cause of Pakistan and the bright future of our children.
Q: Do you see any pre-poll rigging?
I believe that fair, free and transparent elections are central to the future of Pakistan and it is the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan and the interim governments at the federal and provincial levels to make sure that all political parties get a level playing field.
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. PML-N has been singled out for unfair treatment at the hands of NAB [National Accountability Bureau, the top anti-corruption authority] and the caretaker provincial administration, a few days ahead of the polls. What confirms our fears is the privileged treatment being meted out to one political party, smoothening its way to power.
Our candidates were forced to part ways with the party and join the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led by former cricket star Imran Khan] or become independents. The NAB has been chasing the PML-N candidates with inquiries, arresting some of them close to the elections.
The recent example of pre-poll rigging relates to a complete blackout of the massive public rally I led in Lahore on the homecoming of former PM Nawaz Sharif and his daughter. During my political career spanning over three decades, I have yet to see a more charged crowd, passion and energy but not even a single channel covered it.
Thousands of our workers were arrested ahead of the rally, precisely speaking 16,000 workers from Punjab alone.
The spectre of violence has returned and the candidates belonging to the opposition parties have been targeted.
This is unacceptable. We believe that the Election Commission has failed to perform its core function and the caretaker government has lost all veneer of neutrality.
Our election campaign is in top gear. And you know what our performance and delivery is doing the campaigning for us. The development work, undertaken with utmost honesty, dedication and transparency, is doing the talking for us. The people are politically aware and know exactly who served them and who fed them on rhetoric and wasted their precious time. They will deliver their verdict through informed choices on July 25.