While the opposition parties were still scrambling around to find a joint candidate for the Prime Minister slot, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had already lined up their interim candidate and the successor was decided upon in NA 120. The prompt and decisive response not only asserted that the ruling party was confident in facing the new challenges head on, but also served as a contrast that highlighted the infighting that was prevalent in the opposition ranks. Now the tables seem to have turned, and that decisive unity that surprised many in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision is creaking under doubt and uncertainty. If the steady drip of rumours are to be believed – and there are a lot of them to be ignored – Shehbaz Sharif will not succeed his elder brother as Prime Minister, at least, not during the current term.
This may not be a problem for the federal government as the interim Prime Minister – now set to be Prime Minister for the rest of the term – and his cabinet is already in place, but it does leave a giant question mark hanging over the NA-120 constituency. Who will contest the election from the PML-N? Will the Sharif family nominate a scion from its own family or will the spot go to another PML-N leader. The longer this uncertainty prevails the longer the opposition has to consolidate; although it does not seem they are collectively approaching this electoral contest. The failure to nominate a joint Prime Ministerial candidate could have been mitigated by nominating a joint candidate from the NA-120 constituency, but so far the opposition parties are going their separate ways.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has already nominated the runner up candidate in the last election, Dr Yasmin Rashid – who secured 52,354 compared to Nawaz Sharif’s 91,683 in the 2013 general election. The margin is a large one, but not large enough to preclude a tight contest in the by-election; especially since the PML-N candidate isn’t Nawaz Sharif anymore. Of course a lot can change in this equation if the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) decides to nominate their own candidate, or alternatively put their weight behind PTI’s candidate. At the moment however, the other opposition parties are playing their cards close to their chests.
The NA-120 by-election is not the bygone conclusion it was when Shahbaz Sharif was set to be elected from that constituency on his way to becoming Prime Minister. Now it is just another by-election, albeit a hotly contested and closely watched one, and the PML-N has yet to make up its mind on who is going to contest that constituency.