LAHORE: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Sunday called on PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif at Jati Umra and discussed the matter of caretaker prime minister ahead of his final meeting with Oppo­sition Leader Khursheed Shah on Tuesday.

The trio also reported to have discussed defections from the party, NAB cases and rallies in connection with the election campaign.

A close aide to Mr Sharif and senior PML-N leader told Dawn the meeting was of the view that it did not make much difference whether the PML-N proposed a name for the caretaker prime minister “as everyone knows who would control him at the end of the day”.

“In such a situation there is a view in the party that it should not be keen in nominating someone for the slot,” he said, adding that if this view prevailed (in the party) either the opposition (PPP) nominee would get the nod of the PML-N or the matter might be referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Huddle at Jati Umra also discusses NAB cases against Nawaz, defections from PML-N

National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had earlier predicted that the matter might go to the ECP to decide. He, however, expressed the hope that the government and opposition would reach a consensus on the matter.

Another leader who was privy to the development told Dawn that Nawaz Sharif was not in favour of referring this matter to the ECP and wanted consensus. He said the huddle also seriously pondered over accepting the nominee of the PPP for the caretaker premier. “It will not come as a surprise if Mr Abbasi says yes to the name proposed by Mr Shah for the caretaker premier,” he said, adding that the PML-N would at least be in a position to point a finger at the caretaker set-up if things went against it in the coming general elections.

Khursheed Shah has already said that he and the prime minister would finalise the name of the caretaker prime minister by Tuesday and announce it the same day. A discussion on the matter between Mr Abbasi and Mr Shah, a couple days ago, had lasted 15 minutes only and remained inconclusive.

PPP leader from Punjab Naveed Chaudhry told Dawn that Mr Shah would float the name of a non-controversial person for the caretaker premier in his meeting with Mr Abbasi on Tuesday.

“We are positive that neither the ruling PML-N nor the other opposition parties would have any objection to the name of the person (being proposed by Mr Shah),” he said. Mr Chaudhry expressed the hope that the PML-N would not play politics like it did during the election of Senate chairman. “PML-N had proposed the name of Raza Rabbani for the chairman slot only to do politics on it. We hope the PML-N will not repeat this kind of politics,” he added.

The term of the PML-N government is set to expire on May 31, after which the caretaker setup will be put in place. The polls are expected to be held in July or August. If the prime minister and the opposition leader fail to reach a consensus on a candidate, they will have to make public three names each. The list of the six nominees will be referred to a parliamentary committee, which will be formed by the National Assembly speaker.

If the committee also fails to come to a decision, the matter will be referred to the ECP, which will then have prerogative to choose any one of the six nominated candidates. Mr Abbasi and Mr Shah have already agreed not to disclose the names of their respective nominees until the last moment to avoid any controversy.

The Jati Umra meeting also discussed continuation of the PML-N’s rallies especially in Punjab to mobilise workers for the coming elections. In this regard the huddle decided to have the party’s workers convention in Chishtian on Monday. Nawaz Sharif will address it.

A party insider said PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif did not choose to take up the matter of his (Nawaz) controversial interview with his elder brother. It was the first interaction of the Sharif brothers after the Punjab chief minister promised the party men on Thursday to have a word with his elder brother requesting him not to take on the institutions.

Some PML-N parliamentarians had asked Shahbaz Sharif to tell Nawaz Sharif not to go into the general elections with his narrative of “confrontation with the army and judiciary” as it would be very difficult for them to go into election in this environment. The Nawaz camp, however, insists that the party’s narrative is ‘give respect to vote’.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2018