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2017 in review: Tumultuous happenings that jolted Pakistan’s politics

It has been quite a tumultuous year with full of surprises that sought to redraw the country’s political landscape.

The Panama Papers that came to the fore in 2016 continued to shape political narratives and discourses in 2017 and eventually resulted in the inglorious ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

From Supreme Court-sanctioned joint investigation team probing Sharif’s wealth and his subsequent ouster, to religious parties’ protest, engineered alliances, and Imran Khan’s getting a new lease of political life, a surprising turn of events kept the country on pins and needles.

On a number of occasions, the year saw people holding their breath while the top court announced some landmark judgments that drew mixed reactions, prompting criticism and celebrations.

While the PML-N government lurched from crisis to crisis owing to a combination of incompetence, skewed priorities and failed policies, it averted a threat to democratic setup and ensured smooth transition of power by installing Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as new premier.

With the next general elections on the horizon, political parties stepped up mass contact campaigns this year to tilt opinions in their favour and new alliances began to take shape.

A look at political happenings that made headlines in 2017

1 – Supreme Court sends Nawaz Sharif packing

From soothsayers and astrologers to analysts and politicians, no one was sure that the Panama Papers will bring an end to Sharif’s electoral politics.

It all began on New Year’s eve when Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar constituted a five-member bench to hear the Panama Papers case which ultimately led to thrice elected premier being disqualified.

On July 28- the apex court disqualified Sharif, shattering his dream of completing five years in office. He was disqualified from office on the grounds he did not disclose a nominal salary from his son’s Dubai-based company – the money Sharif says he never received.

It ordered the country’s anti-corruption watchdog to file corruption cases against him and members of his family.

His ouster marked victory for PTI chief Imran who spearheaded the campaign to remove his arch-rival from office after the leaking of the Panama Papers accusing Sharif of buying pricy London properties through offshore companies to avoid tax.

Sharif’s ouster plunged the country into political turmoil and triggered uncertainty, posing a real threat to the democratic polity.

2 – Sharif makes his ‘dynastical formula’ public

After his exit from the Prime Minister House, Nawaz Sharif announced he wanted his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to replace him and handpicked ally Shahid Kahaqan Abbasi to be interim until the younger Sharif is elected to the National Assembly to become eligible for office of prime minister.

Later, he had a change of heart and allowed Abbasi to stay on until the polls scheduled around August next year as younger Sharif was reportedly advised to stay put in Punjab, party’s power base.

3 – Against many predictions, Abbasi takes over the reins of power

Four days after Sharif was removed, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected as new prime minister by securing 221 votes in the 342-member National Assembly on August 01. The change, however, demonstrated that the ruling PML-N remained intact despite fears of its collapse after removal of the party’s patriarch Nawaz Sharif from the top executive office.

Rival candidates for the top office, PPP’s Naveed Qamar secured 47 votes, AML chief Sheikh Rashid 33 and Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sahibzada Tariq Ullah only four votes.

In his maiden speech to the House, Abbasi announced to use his short spell in office productively and spelled out his vision to improve socio-economic conditions and security situation in the country.

4 – Kulsoom Nawaz wins her husband’s seat

Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz won by-election held on September 17 on the seat which fell vacant after the disqualification of her husband at a time when his trial by an accountability continues.

The election was seen as a barometer of support for the PML-N after its leader’s ouster, determining whether the corruption allegations levelled against him have had any impact in the power base of the party.

Former first lady Kulsoom Nawaz secured 61, 254 votes while PTI candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid bagged 47,066 votes giving a tough time to her rival in the hotly contested by-poll.

The PML-N winning margin shrunk to 14,000 votes from 40,000 in 2013 general elections, in one of the strongest constituencies  of the PMLN where the ruling family held sway since 1985.

5 – Ousted Sharif back with full force

Despite his lifetime disqualification, Sharif used his party’s healthy majority in the parliament to amend the law to change his political fate and force his return as the president of the PML-N.

He was re-elected unopposed by his party. After his election, Sharif announced that he will return back with full force.

A controversial clause of the Election Act 2017, which paved the way for Sharif to head his party outraged his political opponents, prompting them to go to the court against the law.

6 – Chaudhry Nisar plays a shocker

Former interior minister and the mercurial member of the PML-N announced he would quit his post and party once the decision in the Panama Papers comes out.

Aggrieved by having been excluded from party’s internal consultations, he said the day the Supreme Court announces the verdict whether it is in favour of Nawaz Sharif or against him he has decided to quit his ministry and the parliament seat.

He also announced to end his 33-year association with the party.

Although he neither quit his party nor his National Assembly seat after his boss was sent packing, but refused to be part of newly-elected premier’s bloated cabinet.

He remained outspoken in his criticism of Sharif for launching bitter diatribe against the judiciary for ousting him over a nominal salary and choosing a path of confrontation with judiciary as well as prioritizing his personal interests over that of the party.

7 -Maryam, Hamza fight for power

After the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, a power struggle reportedly began between Nawaz’s side of family and Shahbaz’s family, the reports the ruling family vehemently denied.

This perception of internal differences was further strengthened when Hamza Shahbaz, the son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, opted to stay out of Kulsoom Nawaz’s election campaign in Lahore’s NA-120.

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of the former premier, however single-handedly run the campaign and managed to secure a victory for her mother, the PML-N candidate, in a tough contest.

In a TV interview, Hamza had also admitted to political differences with his cousin and expressed hope that he would be able bring Nawaz Sharif around to his point of view.

Later, the two cousins met at the Model Town residence of the Punjab chief minister after intervention of their elders to dispel the impression of any rift between them.

8 – Imran Khan’s political career survives

The Supreme Court absolved Imran Khan of allegations of corruption, while disqualified the secretary general of the PTI, Jehangir Tareen in a blow to the party.

Tareen was dislodged from public office under the Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution for almost the same reason the party had been levelling against Sharif.

The PTI decides to move a review petition against the disqualification verdict.

9 – Khatem-e-Nabuwwat Amendment – Government shoot itself in the foot?

The amendment in the oath for electoral candidates regarding the finality of the prophethood in the Election Act 2017 created a stir in the country, which forced the government to backtrack and restore it to its original form.

In the recently passed bill, the words in Form-A  “I solemnly swear” were replaced with “I believe” in a clause relating to a candidate’s belief in the finality of the prophethood.

The controversy over the amendment drew strong reaction from the opposition parties, and erupted protests, eventually pressing Law Minister Zahid Hamid into resigning from public office.

While the National Assembly and Senate passed an amendment to restore the oath, the issue seems to be haunting the government till this day.

The ruling PML-N and the opposition parties remained at par over culpability for the change in the Khatm-i-Nabuwat declaration in the recently-passed election law.

10 – Faizabad Fiasco

The country saw late last month the government’s unconditional capitulation to demands of protesters from Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA).

It called in army to help restore order in the capital after it failed to dislodge protesters  from Faizabad, triggering chaos and instability in the country.

After the crisis intensified, the PML-N which seemed to be obsessed with helping party supremo fight his legal and political battle, began to panic, responding to the crisis by shutting down TV channels and blocking social networking sites.

The government finally caved in to demands of protesters, including resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, striking an agreement with protesting leaders,which was facilitated by an army officer.

As many as six people were killed and hundreds wounded when the law enforcement agencies had launched a crackdown to disperse protesters from Faizabad that had paralyzed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The protesters had been demanding action against those behind the controversial amendment in Khatm-i-Nabuwat declaration.

PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif also expressed displeasure over the mishandling of the sit-in and the surrender of his party’s government to the protesters.

11 – The patch-up and the bust-up in Karachi

Within 24 hours between November 8  and November 9, reportedly security establishment-brokered alliance between the PSP and the MQM-P fell apart.

With widespread perception that the establishment shaped the political alliance, Sattar’s decision to enter into the alliance with the Mustafa Kamal-led party angered the rank and file of the MQM-P, forcing him to backtrack the next day.

He announced to quit party at a late night press conference only to take back his decision after party leaders, especially his aged mother, intervened.

Kamal had publicly confirmed the establishment’s meddling in politics when he said the powers-that-be arranged meeting between leaders of the two offshoots of Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which had stranglehold over the port city of Karachi in the recent past.

12 – PPP, PTI join forces with Qadri

The Justice Baqar Najafi report on 2014 Model Town killings in Lahore, was finally released and didn’t hold Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif responsible for the massacre of 14 workers of Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

In the wake of the report, PPP, PTI and other opposition parties joined forces to press for the resignation of Shahbaz and his law minister Rana Sanaullah.

PPP co-chairman and strategist of the party’s policies, Asif Ali Zardari and a PTI delegation visited the Model Town residence of PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, pledging to follow whatever course he announces to pin the PML-N leaders down into resigning from the public office.

The contents of the Justice Ali Baqir Najafi report were made public on orders of the Lahore High Court.

13 – MMA’s re-birth

Disbanded Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the most successful alliance of religious parties in the country’s history, was formally revived ahead of the General Elections 2018 in the country.

In 2002, religious parties from different Muslim sects formed the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, which swept polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but remained defunct for almost 10 years.

The decision of restoring the alliance was announced by Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) chief Shah Ovais Noorani at his residence in Karachi amidst presence of central leadership of the five member parties.

Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Mualana Fazlur Rahman, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Amir Sirajul Haq, Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH) chief Allama Sajid Mir, and Tehreek-i-Islami (TI) chief Allama Sajid Naqvi attended the meeting endorsing the revival decision made a month ago.

Emergence of new politico-religious groups

Before the by-election on Lahore’s NA-120 and Peshawar’s NA-4 , only a few had paid attention to the emergence of new religious groups such as Milli Muslim League and the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah on the political landscape of the country.

TLYRA supported-candidates secured third and fifth positions in Lahore and Peshawar by-elections respectively, setting alarm bells ringing for mainstream right wing political parties, mainly the PML-N, in the next polls.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi-led TLYRA put its weight behind an independent candidate, Sheikh Azhar Hussain Rizvi in Lahore by-election, who bagged 7,130 votes – higher than that of well organized Jamat-i-Islmi and even the mainstream PPP.

In NA-4 Peshawar by-election, TLYRA candidate Dr Muhammad Ashfaque Ameeni bagged 9, 935 votes.

Whereas,  the newly formed political party of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), Milli Muslim League (MML), candidate bagged 5,822 votes in NA-120.

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