ISLAMABAD: Although Mian Nawaz Sharif, the chief of the main opposition PML-N, is yet to anoint anybody from within his family as future leader of the party, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz are working hard for the mantle.
Ms Maryam, who manages the newly-formed high-tech media cell in Lahore, is regularly seen tweeting on the party affairs and has significantly increased its presence in the social media.
On the other hand, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, a sitting member of the National Assembly, addressed back-to-back election rallies in the constituencies where by-elections were held last week. He has been hailed for mobilising party supporters which led to the convincing win in all seven — two National Assembly and five provincial assembly — seats.
Of course, being daughter of the elder Sharif, Ms Maryam has an obvious advantage over her cousin Hamza, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is known for his close contact with party workers at the grassroots level.
Hamza was the only family member who was allowed by Gen Pervez Musharraf to remain in Pakistan to look after family business during the Sharif brothers’ nearly 10 years’ exile in Saudi Arabia.
According to party insiders, Hamza was a clear front-runner to be heir apparent of the PML-N chief until the middle of this year when reports about his second marriage appeared in the media, which he vehemently denied. But the reports did dent his reputation as a politician, especially in the eyes of the senior Sharif.
“Before the infamous marriage scandal which the media, particularly electronic media, avariciously covered, Hamza was in the lead role and could be seen sitting alongside Nawaz Sharif in the party meetings. This position is now being occupied by Maryam,” said a party insider.
After the marriage scandal which, according to some in the party, was concocted to hurt his political life, Hamza took the backseat and Maryam started appearing in the party functions.
“Initially, Mian Nawaz Sharif was all for young Hamza, but after the marriage scandal which remained in the headlines for weeks, he agreed to let Maryam step in politics,” said a party source. Originally, the family wasn’t in favour of Maryam joining politics, claimed the source.
After Hassan and Hussain, sons of Nawaz Sharif, who are apparently happy handling the family business, refused to join politics, Hamza was an automatic choice to lead the party. He was the one who drove his uncle from Lahore during the famous long march which resulted in restoration of the judiciary in March 2009.
But regardless of whether or not Maryam succeeds in politics, the family has decided to give her a fair chance, said a party office-bearer who did not want to be named. “Begum Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif is the one who has actually pushed her daughter, a PhD candidate, towards politics,” the source said.
Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar, son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, according to party sources, also wanted his wife to take a lead role in the party politics, but in the end it was Nawaz Sharif’s call to allow her. Although Maryam has been without any formal portfolio in the organisational structure of PML-N over the past six months, she can seen sitting in all important party meetings.
The party insiders strongly believe that her presence in all committees and sub-committees, including the important manifesto committee, indicates that she is going to have a bigger role in the party.
She is also managing the party office in Lahore, where people involved in the administrative affairs of the party directly report to her. Her main interest is in media management for the party and for this she is being helped by former senator and information minister Tariq Azeem who has joined the PML-N.
Senator Mushahidullah Khan, chief spokesperson for the PML-N, told Dawn that she was learning ‘ins and outs’ of politics.
“Maryam Bibi has no formal responsibility within the party, whereas Hamza is already playing an active role.”
A senior party lawmaker said succession in political parties was a natural phenomenon, “and we being part of the dynastic politics of South Asia where families matter the most, somebody from within the Sharif family had to take the charge. Let’s see who takes the charge.”
The PML-N leader agreed that of late Maryam had been playing quite an active role in party politics. On the other hand, the lawmaker who claimed to be in close contact with the party leadership said, Hamza was at present working hard to get over the marriage fiasco. “He is now on a recovery path and following orders of the party high command,” he said, adding that Hamza’s role in by-elections would probably help him regain some of the ground he had lost to the marriage scandal.