WASHINGTON - PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has thrown his weight behind the lawyers Long March and sealed his position as Pakistan’s most popular political leader.
Sharif has become the man of the hour in Pakistan, poised to add tens of thousands of followers to a nationwide protest against the government, The Christain Science Monitor reports.
The opposition leader’s transformation from disciple of a military dictator to champion for the rule of law highlights how strong popular demand for democratic reform has grown here.
But many who now stand with him do so at a distance because they remember that as Prime Minister in the 1990s Sharif also tampered with the courts, aligned with religious parties, and aggrandized power to himself.
Some analysts claim that the experience of being toppled by a military coup changed Sharif into a reliable advocate for democratic institutions, The CSM reports.
Others find the transformation a bit too convenient, but suggest that the popular momentum for reform might be more powerful, for once, than any one political leader here.
“As we look to what extent Nawaz Sharif has changed, I think we should also look at how the political environment has changed. The people of Pakistan are much more interested in having leaders who have been showing their support for the democratic institutions and norms,” says Khalid Rahman, director of the Institute for Policy Studies.
A Gallup poll this month reflects this movement toward principle over personality. Nearly half of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) voters disagree with President Asif Ali Zardari’s failure to restore former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
And 58 percent disapprove of the current court’s decision to disqualify Sharif and his brother from political office. They also oppose the PPP’s move to take control of the provincial government the brothers had run.
The percentages run even higher among the electorate - a measure of the frustration that is expected to show itself on the streets in the coming days. Concerned, the government banned public gatherings and arrested hundreds of activists Wednesday.
The protest is expected to swell Sunday when the marchers reach Lahore - the capital of Sharif’s power base. From there it heads to Islamabad, where police have already positioned empty truck containers that can be used to block off road access to the city.