LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is set to succeed his brother at the Centre in less than two months, is looking towards his son, Hamza Shabaz, as his replacement in Punjab so as to keep the position in the family, but also because he enjoys a degree of comfort in dealing with his son, say Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) insiders.
According to the party insiders, however, the final say on who gets to helm Punjab rests with ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is looking to consolidate the party’s control in Punjab. The PML-N cannot afford to lose its grip on Punjab at this time, especially since the next general elections are barely a year away, says a senior PML-N leader.
“Shahbaz wants his son, who is already acting as the deputy chief minister, to succeed him for the remaining term in Punjab. However, [it is up to] Nawaz Sharif to decide whether Hamza will be the right choice for the post or not,” a senior PML-N legislator from Punjab told Dawn. “Whoever is nominated for the CM post will follow instructions from Shahbaz...but his level of comfort with his son will be higher than with an ‘outsider’. At the same time, Shahbaz wants to give his son the experience he needs to serve at the top level.”
The PML-N leader added that Shahbaz would continue to oversee matters in Punjab indirectly, while his elder brother (Nawaz Sharif) would govern the Centre from his Raiwind residence.
Provincial minister may keep seat warm for Shahbaz’s son for 45 days
“After installing a new chief minister, Shahbaz’s duties will be doubled — partially looking after the affairs at the Centre, and keeping an eye on matters in Punjab full time. If Hamza manages to get the CM slot in Punjab he will be a strong candidate for this post in the 2018 polls as well,” the leader said.
On Saturday, the deposed prime minister formally announced that Shahbaz would be his successor, while Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will be premier for 45 days till Shahbaz contests the by-election from NA-120 in order to get to the National Assembly.
“But the decision to hand over Punjab to Hamza is not easy for Nawaz Sharif since he may not want to see his younger brother and his son ruling at the Centre and in Punjab...virtually taking over the party at the end of the day,” the PML-N leader said, adding that the selection of Shahbaz’s replacement would be more difficult than at the Centre.
Rumours of Hamza’s political tiffs with the former premier’s family and children abound. He had not openly defended his uncle (Nawaz) in the Panama Papers case, choosing not to comment too much on the issue. Hamza is an MNA from NA-119, Lahore, and if selected for the post of CM, will have to contest the by-election from Raiwind, the seat his father will vacate. Nevertheless, both families have often vehemently denied rumours of any political disagreement.
A provincial minister told Dawn that the names of three of his colleagues — Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Information Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman and Food Minister Bilal Yasin — were also being considered for the CM slot. “Any of these ministers will get the slot for 45 days if Hamza gets a go-ahead from the party leadership. In case Hamza fails to secure the blessing of the party leadership, one of the three ministers will get the full remaining term,” he said.
The minister added that Rana Sanaullah enjoyed a seamless equation with Shahbaz Sharif as the former was considered one of the CM’s most trusted lieutenants. Nevertheless, there was a chance that the law minister may not be the ultimate choice for the CM slot as the Sharifs need someone “more pliant”.
Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman hails from an influential Arian family of Lahore with strong roots in the PML-N. His father Mian Shujaur Rehman was the lord mayor of the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation and had close relations with the Sharif family.
Bilal Yasin is a relative of Kalsoom Nawaz, wife of Nawaz Sharif, which could be all the credential he needs to be selected for the slot.
Dawn’s request for comments sent to Hamza Shahbaz remained unanswered.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2017