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LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has decided to play down losing a Senate seat in Punjab to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf despite the fact the latter did not have the required number to get Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar through without the support of some ruling party MPAs.

Newly elected interim president of the PML-N Shahbaz Sharif reportedly grilled his son Hamza Shahbaz for his failure to ensure victory for the party’s UK chapter head Zubair Gul who usually looks after the party’s Quaid (supreme leader) Nawaz Sharif and his family members during their stay in London.

Separately, Senator Pervaiz Rashid called on Nawaz Sharif at the latter’s Jati Umra residence on Sunday and discussed the Senate election results and the party’s strategy to grab the slots of chairman and deputy chairman in the upper house of parliament. Mr Sharif was also informed why the party could not win all the 12 seats in Punjab despite having a fair chance of it in the face of a divided opposition.

In Saturday’s Senate elections, PTI candidate Chaudhry Sarwar secured maximum votes (44) on the general category seat, giving a complete surprise to the ‘confident’ PML-N that had apparently done its homework to grab the 12th seat from Punjab as well.

PML-N discusses strategy to win election for Senate chairman, deputy

MNA Hamza Shahbaz was made focal person for coordination and an organised electioneering for the Senate. He was responsible for making ‘separate pools’ for seven candidates of the PML-N. As Shahbaz Sharif had taken a pledge from the PML-N MPAs to vote for the party candidates a couple of days before the polls, his son could not anticipate that some of those in the pool of Zubair Gul would not vote for him.

“Shahbaz Sharif is not happy with his son’s performance. So is uncle (Nawaz) and cousin Maryam. Maryam was very excited as on Saturday she had declared before the results that the PML-N grabbed all 12 seats. Now all want answers from ‘Hamza and company’ as to why the party lost the Senate seat to the former governor of Punjab whose party had only 30 seats,” a PML-N legislator told Dawn.

He said that at least 10 PML-N MPAs, including women, had voted for Mr Sarwar, while even more than a dozen voted for PPP’s Shahzad Ali Khan, a relative of PPP’s senior vice president Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo. He said Mr Sharif had also asked why Zubair Gul was put on the pool that had ‘suspected elements (MPAs)’.

“Mr Gul, who already has surrendered his UK nationality to contest the Senate polls, is now looking up to the leadership to compensate him,” the PML-N legislator added.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told Dawn that the PML-N had won 11 seats according to its strength in the Punjab Assembly. “The PML-N had never claimed that it would easily win the seventh seat on general category. We tried our best but unfortunately we could not win it,” he said.

Asked if the PML-N would launch an investigation to find out who had betrayed or violated the party policy to vote for Chaudhry Sarwar and Shahzad Khan, the minister said: “We do not have any such reports and, therefore, we are not going to hold any inquiry in this regard.” He also ruled out the possibility of buying votes by the PTI or the PPP and said: “We do not have any such reports.”

Rana Arshad, an adviser to the chief minister, said: “Chaudhry Sarwar won the Senate election after Kamil Ali Agha transferred all seven votes of the PML-Q to him in the second category. Almost all our MPAs voted for our candidates.”

Manzoor Wattoo told Dawn that the PPP just missed out giving a ‘big surprise’ to the ruling PML-N as his relative Shahzad Khan managed to get 32 votes.

The Election Commission of Pakistan declares that he got 26 votes.

Mr Wattoo, a former chief minister of Punjab, claimed that he and his party men used their political connections to woo at least 18 PML-N votes (PPP has eight members in the Punjab Assembly). “Had the PML-Q supported us we could have managed to deprive PML-N of one more seat in general category. Those votes from the PML-N for the PPP candidate are from Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Kasur, Vehari and Sahiwal districts,” he added.

Mr Wattoo said Chaudhry Sarwar, who was once with the PML-N, used his connections in the ruling party to clinch the seat.

Senate chairman post

As the names of Raja Zafarul Haq and Pervaiz Rashid are doing the rounds for the slot of Senate chairman in the PML-N camp, Rana Sanaullah said the party was confident to have its chairman because it had 33 members and together with its allies the number swelled to 47. “If the MQM agrees to come with us with its five votes, we will easily win the Senate chairman slot,” he said.

Mr Wattoo said that since Raza Rabbani was likely to be the PPP candidate for the post of chairman, PML-N stood hardly any chance to compete with him. “Our party is in contact with its allies and independents and hopefully in a few days picture will be clear in this regard,” he added.

PML-N general council meeting

The PML-N has deferred its general council meeting scheduled for March 6 in Islamabad. The meeting, which was to elect Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif full-time president of the PML-N, will now be held on March 13.

The decision to defer the meeting has been taken because of ‘poor’ health of Shahbaz Sharif.

The party’s central working committee had last week elected Shahbaz Sharif interim president and Nawaz Sharif Quaid of the PML-N.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018