View Full Version : The N game - Fahd Husain - 1st July 2018

1st July 2018, 10:44 AM
Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.—Samuel Johnson

What if you wanted to lose in order to win?

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is in pain. The party is boxing with shadows and the shadows are packing quite a punch. The pummelling of the party is getting more intense by the day. There is no reprieve. There is no respite. The party will limp across the electoral finish line. Maybe even crawl over it.

If ever the Noonies needed options, it is now. If ever they needed to concentrate their minds wonderfully…

There is, therefore, a spirited debate swirling within the top echelons of the party — a debate that is aimed at generating practical options that can lead to smart decisions. When the PML-N strategists gather in their Ops Room and review the situation, what stares back is a variety of scenarios with corresponding options for National Assembly seats:

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Scenario 1: 80-100 seats

When N strategists review this option, they smile a quiet inward smile. Then this quiet smile mutates into delirious and uncontrollable laughter that brings tears of joy streaking down their cheeks. Once this fit of ecstasy settles down, they crunch the numbers. These numbers tell them they can form the government without a spot of bother if they can get Asif Ali Zardari on board. If the PML-N has close to a hundred seats, Shehbaz Sharif becomes the prime minister and Zardari transmutes from a former president to a sitting president. Oh and lest we forget, Bilawal B Zardari gets to be the foreign minister while Maryam Nawaz picks up the ministry of her choice. Or she gets the Foreign Office while Bilawal B gets his pick somewhere else. Either way this scenario gets the PML-N high. Very high.

Scenario 2: 60-80 seats

Opposition benches it is. Unless the PPP romps home with 60-odd seats, brings in a bunch of independents and agrees to join hands with the PML-N. Assume the ANP chips in a few seats as does Sharif allies like Mehmood Achakzai, etc, and the coalition can inch past the magic figure of 137 required to form the government.

The PML-N shall need to pay a price for this salvation. In this case the price will be nothing less than Bilawal B Zardari becoming the next prime minister of Pakistan while the PML-N plays the role of a junior partner with a few ministerial crumbs thrown its way. Make no mistake: there is one saddle, and Zardari will be firmly planted on it in this scenario.

But if the PPP cannot win enough seats, or is not interested in joining up with the Sharifs, then the Sharifs will have no choice but to warm the opposition benches. Shehbaz Sharif gets to become the leader of the opposition and shepherd the herd of out-of-power sulking politicians finding themselves on the wrong side of the system. The PML-N would then want to create a potent Opposition block and gleefully dole out the same medicine to Imran Khan that was doled out to them in the 2013-18 era. Expecting political stability? Forget it.

Scenario 3: 40-60 seats

Troubles they are a-comin’. This means the PML-N loses Punjab, loses the Centre, and loses face too. The behemoth that once appeared undefeatable will now be reduced to a trounced, truncated and traumatised team of terribly nervous men and women floundering in the darkness of an uncertain future. And to add insult to injury, they may face the ultimate humiliation: Nawaz in jail, Imran in PM House and Zardari in the presidency.

Such is the stuff nightmares are made of.

But for this horror to unfold, the PML-N will need to be comprehensively and convincingly defeated in Punjab. In numbers this would mean the party winning no more than 30-35 of the 141 Punjab seats. They will pick up a few from K-P and an odd one from Balochistan — essentially meaning a near wipeout from the other provinces. Possible? Yes. Probable? Unlikely.

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Scenario 4: Punjab rule

The PMLN would be quite satisfied if they lose the Centre but hold on to Punjab. This option could kick in with Scenario 1 and Scenario 2. In both these scenarios, the PML-N wins a respectable number of seats from Punjab but would not be able to form the government at the Centre if the PPP does not join in. But the PML-N’s tally of provincial seats may enable it to form the government in Punjab.

So as the party strategists lock heads in their Ops Room and review these four options, the pros and cons of each option present an array of possibilities. With elections 600 hours away, many in the party are gradually seeing their renewed priorities with greater clarity. One such reality — were the numbers to allow it — is the preference for Scenario 4.

The argument goes something like this: If the PML-N can have the Punjab government, why should it waste its energies in forming a weak coalition government at the Centre? Why hobble into power and let an extremely strong PTI in the opposition to keep the pot boiling — again? Why not let Imran form a weak government and then make his life miserable? With Punjab under its belt, the PML-N will retain an upper hand in the larger scheme of political things. Plus — goes the argument — let Imran climb into power and make a mess of things as he is likely to.

In essence then, the logic says the PML-N can achieve two goals: One, let a weak Imran-led coalition fumble into power, pick fights, lock horns and at some point, self-destruct (with a bit of help, of course). Second, use the time to consolidate power in Punjab, nurse the party back into health and secure the internal transformation into the post-Nawaz era. In order to achieve this, the party’s focus then shifts mainly to the provincial seats in the Punjab and the numbers game required to cross the majority figure. And the Centre?

What if you wanted to lose in order to win?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2018.