LAHORE -  The PML-N is passing through a very difficult phase at present and will have to take very careful decisions to be able to survive and show a good performance in the next elections. Any mistake or miscalculation at this juncture may affect the unity of the party and its future role.

Until recently when the PML-N was in power the head of the government and the party used to be the same person – Mian Nawaz Sharif. This was the case during his first, second and third terms – till the July 28 judgment by the five-judge Supreme Court bench that disqualified Mr Sharif as the head of government.

The dual office arrangement was to ensure PM’s firm control both on the government and the party.

But the situation has changed after Mr Sharif’s disqualification as prime minister. The Supreme Court verdict not only shattered all dreams of the Sharif family but also landed the party in a quagmire.

Although MNS has again become the party chief as a result of a controversial legislation by the bicameral legislature and the election staged by the party, he may have to face dethronement as the enactment has already been challenged before the court and legal experts say it is less likely to pass the judicial test. The moment a negative verdict came, the leadership crisis in the party will aggravate further.

The party leaders are aware that MNS is skating on thin ice as after disqualification noose is also being tightened around him because of the corruption references against him and his family members. Some people think that MNS should get aside and let his brother – Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif – lead the party. But it is generally believed that MNS wants the cane of authority passed onto his daughter – Maryam – to continue the dynastic rule. That Maryam faces corruption references and faces an uncertain future is not his consideration at the moment. (PTI leader Shafqat Mehmud insists that Nawaz and Shehbaz are one and the same thing and their mock rivalry being projected by the media is nothing but a move to fool the masses).

If no miracle happens – and it is less likely to happen this time around as the PML-N has antagonized both the army and the judiciary – Maryam is in no position to steer the party out of the prevailing crisis. She is not likely to be accepted as the party chief by senior leaders even if she is installed.

But will the situation normalise and the party have a bright future if Shehbaz Sharif is brought to the fore as party head?

This is the question that needs serious consideration.

Apparently, if Shehbaz Sharis is the party president, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will have to seek instructions from him on policy matters. Will he do that?

If he does, he will be setting a good precedent. But what if he doesn’t on the pretext that being prime minister he can’t seek instructions from the man who is also the Punjab chief minister?

Then, should the party chieftainship be given to the prime minister?

As a matter of principle, either Shehbaz Sharif should be made both prime minister and PML-N president, or both the top offices should be entrusted to Mr Abbasi.

While taking a decision on this important issue the party will also have to keep in mind the requirements of the new elections.

Shehbaz Sharif, being the younger brother of the former prime minister, will be in a better position to serve party interests.

But the question is who should replace Shehbaz as the Punjab CM?

Party leaders should join heads and find an equally efficient and workaholic replacement who can ensure timely completion of all projects in hand.

Newspapers have carried reports that PML-N leaders are confused at present and are waiting for future instructions from the leadership. Also, they are examining possibilities about their own future course of action.

Everybody knows that many in the PML-N are turncoats from the PML-Q, who may change loyalties to serve their future interests. A person who can change his political faith once will have no qualms doing it twice, thrice – depending upon instructions from their masters. After all, they say, there is no final word in politics.