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PTI sets its sights on ruling Punjab

Updated July 27, 2018

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LAHORE: Buoyed by its electoral triumph, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is gripped by excited anticipation about forming a government in Punjab, banking on the support of independent candidates and MPAs of other parties who have begun leaning towards the party that is set to form a government at the Centre.

“Minus the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the PTI welcomes all independents and other parties’ elected members from Punjab to join hands [with us],” said Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed, PTI’s MPA-elect and former leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly.

PTI chairman’s spokesperson Naeemul Haq asserted that the PTI would form a government in Punjab and was currently in close contact with various MPs-elect.

Party has already entered into talks with MPAs-elect to get the needed numbers

Sources say that party leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jahangir Khan Tareen, on the instructions of the party chairman, have established contact with independents and other parties’ MPAs-elect to join hands with the PTI to form government in Punjab.

Former Punjab minister Khawaja Imran Nazir said the PML-N had yet not decided whether it would form a provincial government or sit on the opposition benches. Sources, in the meantime, said that in a senior PML-N party members meeting in Lahore, former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was urged to step up efforts to form a government in Punjab.

According to the unofficial results of the 2018 general elections for the Punjab Assembly available so far, the PML-N and PTI are running neck-to-neck with 122 seats each. However, the PTI has an edge as its allied party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), has three seats in hand. So far, 29 seats have been clinched by independents. The PPP has bagged five seats and so is the case with the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA)

In Lahore, the PTI has clinched eight seats from 30 constituencies this time around, whereas it had won four seats in the Punjab Assem­bly in the previous elections. The eight winning candidates are: Mian Muha­mmad Aslam Iqbal (PP-151), Abdul Aleem Khan (PP-158), Murad Raas (PP-159), Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed (PP-160), Malik Nadeem Abbas (PP-161), Nazir Ahmad Chohan (PP-167), Muhammad Amin Zulqernain (PP-170) and Sarfraz Hussain (PP-173).

A party looking to form a government in Punjab will need 149 seats in the 297-seat house. The Election Commission of Pakistan will notify the selection of women on 66 reserved seats and eight on minority seats according to the lists submitted by political parties.

As the party’s position keeps getting clearer, a debate has emerged within the PML-N and the PTI over candidates for the coveted position of chief minister of Punjab. Since PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi lost his seat from PP-216, chairman Imran Khan’s close aide Abdul Aleem Khan has now emerged as a strong candidate for the post.

A former chief minister, PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, is also said to be in the race of the top slot in Punjab. A private TV channel said that since Mr Elahi had prior experience of serving on this post and since he was an ally of the PTI, Mr Khan had been advised by certain quarters to consider him as a viable option.

If the PML-N decided to step up efforts to form a government in Punjab, former provincial minister Khawaja Imran Nazir said, party supremo Nawaz Sharif would pick a candidate for the chief minister slot.

In 2013, the PML-N ruled Punjab with an absolute majority — 239 directly elected MPs in the 297-member house. The PTI had played the role of a tiny opposition with 30 seats of its own, eight each of the PML-Q and the PPP, as well as the PML-Zia which got three seats, while Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Bahawalpur National Awami Party and Pakistan National Muslim League had one seat each in the Punjab Assembly.

Talking to the media, PTI’s Mahmoodur Rasheed said PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif should stop levelling fake allegations of rigging in elections. “Do bring evidence of rigging, the PTI will be ready to open constituencies for verification,” he said, iterating the party’s line.

Mr Rasheed said the people of Punjab had rejected the status quo and corruption by the Sharifs over the past 10 years and assured that the PTI government would strengthen institutions, improve governance and use public resources on human resource development. “The PTI’s performance towards human development has led the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa people to re-elect the PTI, a first in the history of the province,” he said.

Mr Rasheed suggested that Shahbaz Sharif should show political maturity, accept results and play the role of an opposition for the cause of democracy.

Elaborating the party line, he said the PTI government would not go for victimisation of its political opponents and instead let the institutions function with full autonomy. “Only mega projects in Punjab will be re-assessed and assured that undue cost be cut,” he added.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2018