Pakistan is grappling with a political crisis at the helm. The former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, disqualified from office in July by the Supreme Court over charges of corruption, is now still more wobbly at the knees. In a span of two days ~ Thursday and Friday ~ he along with daughter Maryam and his son-in-law have been indicted in three more cases, including a real estate fiddle in Britain. The sheer pace of developments has been dramatic indeed.

Ahead of next year’s general election, Sharif’s position gets denuded further and it will be almost impossible to shore up his image. Given a fragile Opposition, the outlook is uncertain. Last week’s predicament has virtually neutralised the impact of the victory of Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, in last month’s Lahore byelection for the seat vacated by her husband, post disqualification.

The former Prime Minister’s involvement in the Panama scandal and his party’s victory in the by-election are two very different propositions. The second did occasion a bout of starry-eyed euphoria within the family. As it turns out, the corruption issue has now assumed a pivotal role vis-a-vis the country’s parties and politics on the eve of the National Assembly elections. Small wonder that the outcome of last week’s triple whammy has almost immediately been felt in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). The shrill for Sharif’s brother and Chief Minister of the dominant province of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, to head the party has become far more strident than it was three months ago, when the apex judiciary had rocked the applecart.

Suffice it to register that the judiciary has reaffirmed its position as a crucial factor in the power play ~ besides the Rawalpindi GHQ and the legislature. Sharif has lost the battle in the courts and the latest indictments have buttressed the import of the Supreme Court order of 28 July, though the Lahore by-election victory had somewhat blunted the edge of that verdict.

For the PML (N), the outlook is uncertain despite the meeting of 40 MPs of the party, pledging their support to Shahbaz as the next leader. If there are reservations, they do emanate from within the family. There is said to be an increasing demand within the PML-N for change; the party risks losing members to opposing forces if it delays such a transition.

After a fairly long spell in power, it has reconciled itself to the fact that it is time for the former Prime Minister and his feisty daughter to be relegated to the background. In point of fact, a beleaguered party is now at the helm. The recent change in the law, that allowed Nawaz Sharif to be elected as PML-N chief following his disqualification as Prime Minister, has also been rendered irrelevant in the midst of the flux within the party. The personspecific amendment, that was rushed through Parliament, now holds no water.