May Issue 2013
Wheel and Deal
The political leadership of the PML-Q was originally a part of the PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif. However, differences reportedly arose within the party after the 1999 elections. The dissidents, led by Shujaat Hussain, vocally supported General Pervez Musharraf’s coup against Sharif’s government the same year. Musharraf subsequently asked Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Elahi to “galvanise and reinvent the Muslim League” for the 2002 elections and so the PML-Quaid-e-Azam was formed. The name was an attempt to convert the PML-N’s centre-right ideology back to centralism. With many ‘electables’ from the PML-N and independents having joined its ranks, the party was able to secure 126 seats in the National Assembly in 2002.
The PML-Q’s performance in the 2008 elections was a lot less impressive. Much of their diminished fortune can be explained by General Musharraf’s considerably weakened position, since he was the primary source of their legitimacy and influence. The PML-Q’s less than stellar performance in government did not help their chances either. Musharraf’s opponents in the PML-N, PPP, PTI and other parties were able to turn the public discourse against him by capitalising on his political failures – particularly those stemming from the ‘War on Terror’ – while enhancing their own political credibility. Consequently, the PML-Q suffered from the stigma of being ‘Musharraf’s party’ and, given that it was largely a product of opportunistic horse-trading itself, lost many of its parliamentarians to parties that experienced a rise in their political prospects. Unsurprisingly they won only 54 seats in the National Assembly in 2008.
The PML-Q was nonetheless able to secure a power-sharing agreement with the victorious PPP after the 2008 elections, but that was not the end of their troubles as defections and infighting continued. The party’s main breakaway factions include the Awami Muslim League led by Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad in 2008, the Pakistan Muslim League (Like-Minded) in 2009 which subsequently allied itself with the PML-N, the All-Pakistan Muslim League founded by former President Musharraf in exile and the revived PML-Z led by Zia-ul-Haq’s son in 2010.
Furthermore, the reputation of the Chaudhry brothers, who constitute the core of the party, remains tarnished by financial scandals though they have yet to be convicted. Mostly recently, PML-Q leaders were criticised by many in Pakistan’s predominantly conservative populace for inviting a female dancer to their cultural show.
Given that much of its senior leadership has defected back to PML-N and junior members to the PTI, and in light of internal feuding and poor performances in previous governments, the PML-Q’s electoral prospects look dimmer still for the 2013 elections. However, with experienced politicians, a solid feudal support base in Gujrat and northern Punjab, and a reputation for ideological flexibility, it would not be surprising if the PML-Q finds itself in government yet again.