Both the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)—the two main rivals to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in upcoming elections—have criticized the “homecoming” of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of changing his “narrative” to secure a route back to power.
On Saturday, Sharif ended four years of self-imposed exile, addressing a crowd of tens of thousands at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore in which he recalled the accomplishments of his governments and vowed to work with all stakeholders to revive the national economy if granted another chance at the top slot. The gathering saw stringent security measures by authorities and came about after he secured protective bail in two separate cases—despite critics maintaining this facility was not available to convicts.
Reacting to the event, PPP leader Faisal Kurim Kundi questioned the ongoing delay in announcing a date for general elections, maintaining that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could not operate on the whim of “two personalities”—a seeming reference to leaders of the PMLN and JUIF, though only the latter has explicitly demanded a delay to polls. “It is about time we put an end to the ‘selection’ process, and head towards elections,” he said in a statement.
In a subsequent appearance on Geo News, he further slammed the PMLN leader for not explicitly calling for elections in his address. Nawaz Sharif “did not talk about elections, which indicates that he is not confident if people would vote for him,” he claimed. “As a leader of a prominent political party, he should have talked about elections; instead, he presented his CV and made his address look like a victory speech,” he said, maintaining the event appeared to be a ‘coronation ceremony’ more than a political rally.
Lamenting the PMLN’s “changed” narrative on elections, he claimed the party had supported polls prior to Nawaz’s return and was now shifting its stance. Reiterating the PPP’s claims of the Punjab caretaker government facilitating the PMLN, he maintained that electoral rigging witnessed in the past could not be repeated in the upcoming polls. “The votes cannot be stolen this time. There is no way anyone can attempt any sort of cheating in the electoral process since the majority of the voters are young people. They won’t let you deprive them of their right,” he said, maintaining the PPP was ready for elections.
To a question on whether the PPP would fight for the PTI’s right to contest polls, Kundi was less definite. “We never want to exclude a political party from an election. However, the PTI was included in May 9 mayhem. Its decision would be taken by the courts and the ECP,” he said, appearing to accept the ECP’s ruling in all matters apart from issuing a date for elections.
PTI spokesperson Shoaib Shaheen, in a press conference on Sunday, echoed the PPP in alleging that the former prime minister had returned to Pakistan as a consequence of a “deal” after changing his “narrative.” Maintaining that Sharif was a “fugitive and criminal,” he said the former premier was being “imposed” on the country and being treated like a “state guest.”
Claiming incarcerated PTI chief Imran Khan could bring out much larger numbers if he were allowed to addresses political rallies, Shaheen referred to a so-called “London Plan,” as maintaining it had “exposed” the Sharif brothers’ reality.
“Stop experimenting and give the people the right to vote as per their wishes,” he added, in an apparent reference to the military establishment, which he did not name, or acknowledge the role of in bringing the PTI to power in 2018 under another “experiment.”