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LAHORE: Two days after TV channels flashed the news that former premier Nawaz Sharif had named Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as the party’s nominee for the office of prime minister in 2018 general elections, the elder Sharif is said to be reluctant to publicly nominate his younger brother for the coveted office as he wants to keep his cards close to his chest till the last minute, it emerged on Saturday.

While Shahbaz Sharif’s camp in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has been running a vigorous campaign to see their leader nominated by Nawaz Sharif for the PM slot, Nawaz’s loyalists argue that the issue is premature to discuss as the party would go into the 2018 general elections under his leadership.

There is no official confirmation yet from the ruling party on whether the ousted PM has nominated his younger brother for the slot or not.

Both the central information secretary of the PML-N and a spokesman for the Punjab government said the party had not made any official announcement about its future PM candidate.

PML-N leaders say decision will be taken by the party’s CEC

“We have heard that Mian sahib had said that Shahbaz sahib would be the party’s nominee for PM office in the next election while talking to some journalists, but this has not been discussed in any party meeting,” PML-N information secretary Mushahidullah Khan told Dawn on Saturday.

Mr Khan, who is also the federal climate change minister, went on to say that the decision to this effect would be taken at the party’s “central executive committee (CEC) meeting when it comes on the agenda. However, the party chief’s opinion will prevail in this and other matters”.

Punjab government spokesperson Malik Muhammad Ahmad echoed similar views, saying that although there had been no official confirmation of the nomination, when the appr­opriate stage came the party’s CEC would endorse Nawaz Sharif’s proposal.

When asked why the party was hesitant to officially announce Shahbaz Sharif’s nomination, Mr Ahmad said: “I think it will be done at an appropriate time.”

Shahbaz’s name had popped up as a candidate for the PM slot soon after the Panama Papers debacle as well, but, as Mr Ahmad pointed, Shahbaz Sharif had retained his position as CM in order to see the ongoing development projects through to the end.

Some PML-N insiders have shared that Shahbaz Sharif’s camp wanted a clear message from Nawaz to the party that Shahbaz will be the PML-N’s nominee for PM office.

“But Nawaz is reluctant to publicly nominate his brother for the party’s PM candidate as he wants to keep his cards close to his chest till the last minute,” a PML-N leader from the Nawaz camp said.

“It is premature to even discuss who the PML-N will nominate for the PM slot for the 2018 elections at this stage. Nawaz Sharif will decide on this matter when the time comes after taking party leaders on board. The PML-N will go into the 2018 election under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif,” he said.

He added that CM Sharif was keen on cementing his position for a behind-the-scenes battle aimed at taking the reins of the party after 2018 elections.

Earlier, Minister Riaz Pirzada and some MPAs from Punjab had pitched a proposal to replace Nawaz Sharif with his younger brother as the party head going into next year’s election.

The Shahbaz camp, too, had expressed disappointment over his (Shahbaz’s) failure to become premier after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster.

“Shahbaz Sharif was made to miss a golden opportunity to succeed his elder brother as there has been no guarantee that he will get the same chance in 2018 in case PML-N wins the election as more players from the elder Sharif’s family may be there in the race for the top slot,” a PML-N leader told Dawn.

Nawaz’s daughter Maryam, who won the NA-120 by-poll for her mother, is likely to contest from this constituency next year if she is cleared in the corruption cases she faces in the accountability courts.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2017