WITH Hamza Shehbaz finally in the saddle as the chief executive of the PML-N’s power base of Punjab, he will now have to focus attention on good governance and delivery, if he wishes to consolidate his political hold on the province.
This wrenching of the reins from the unwilling hands of the PTI was achieved, despite the PTI trying every trick in the book and, legal experts say, going beyond the pale of the Constitution. This had enabled the governing party, and the PML-Q faction allied to it, to delay the inevitable, but not more. The law prevailed in the end.
Seeing his son and key loyal lieutenant for the past two decades occupying the seat of power in Punjab would normally be viewed as a great source of strength by the prime minister, as he would not then be distracted by issues in the heartland of his support base.
However, this could be a double-edged sword as there has been justified criticism of why the PML-N could not find even one suitable leader from the party to take up this position, preferring, instead, to ‘keep it within the family’.
Each move by Hamza Shehbaz will be put under the microscope by the PML-N’s opponents.
Each move by Hamza Shehbaz will be put under the microscope by the PML-N’s opponents and whatever remains of the independent media in the country, to see if his nomination and ascent to the highest office in Pakistan’s most populous province is based on merit or owes itself to nepotism.
He can’t afford to falter as the PTI, with its aggressive and divisive campaign after the loss of office, will target him relentlessly for acts of omission and commission. His handling of the Imran Khan-led protest march to Islamabad could be one of the first tests of his nerves and skills.
In the initial months of his first stint in office, he will have to deal with a major law-and-order challenge as his government’s jurisdiction extends from south Punjab to the Attock Bridge, beyond which is the PTI’s citadel of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
If the protest march reaches even a quarter or less of the two million people that Imran Khan has promised to bring to the federal capital to force immediate elections, a large contingent of his supporters will have to come from KP and urban Punjab.
Logistics will matter. So will his hold over the administrative machinery. He will be tested, but it is too early to say whether he can handle the challenge firmly, yet also with kid gloves, in order to avert a major crisis and prevent the situation from spinning out of control.
To my understanding, the role played so far by Hamza Shehbaz has been to attend to issues of members of the Punjab Assembly and to address demands of constituency politics, including deciding on and running the PML-N set-up at that level.
In terms of his achievements in that area, PML-N insiders say he has acquitted himself well and that the party rank and file as well as leadership have faith in him. How far has that role, even if he was successful at playing it, equipped him to run the government is another matter.