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LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has stepped up efforts to woo independent MPAs-elect over to its side, and former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Shahbaz has asked Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan to respect the PML-N’s mandate of being the largest party in Punjab and let it form the provincial government.

Hamza was asked at a presser on Friday whether this ‘request’ to Mr Khan was an admission that his party was facing problems in wooing the (29) independent MPAs-elect, as most of them had reportedly agreed to join the PTI. He replied: “We are in contact with them (independents) and hopefully we will manage to form the government with their support.”

He said after the 2013 polls, the PML-N could have formed government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but Nawaz Sharif had respected Imran Khan’s mandate and allowed him to form the government.

Hamza asks Imran to respect his party’s mandate as being the largest party in the province

“We emerged as the largest party in Punjab despite massive rigging. Now our mandate (in Punjab) should be respected and we should be given the right to form a government,” Hamza demanded.

Addressing the PTI leader, Hamza said: “Imran Khan...I tell you if you and the Election Commission created hurdles in our way (to form the government) we will face them.”

According to the unofficial results, the PML-N emerged as the largest party with 127 seats, the PTI with 122 seats, the PML-Q with seven, the PPP with six and independents have 29 seats in the directly elected house of 297 seats. The PTI says that since the PML-Q is its ally, it is now the largest party with 130 members. As many as 149 (directly-elect) MPAs are required to form the government.

On the other hand, PTI’s Jahangir Tareen and Chaudhry Sarwar, and PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi have started reaching out to the independents and tried to get pledges from most of them to join their efforts to form a government in Punjab. Mr Elahi, who is also in the race for the post of chief minister, along with Mahmoodur Rashid, Aleem Khan and Fawad Chaudhry, reportedly enjoys personal relations with a good number of independents and may seek their support for the top slot.

“Since Pervaiz Elahi has the experience to serve Punjab well as a chief minister (2002-07) he may emerge as a potential candidate for the top slot if most independents repose trust in him,” a source privy to the development told Dawn.

However, the PTI has also made it clear that they would like to form their government in the country’s largest province.

PTI leader Naeemul Haq said: “We have the required numbers (of MPAs) to form the government. The PML-N will sit in opposition in Punjab as well,” he was quoted as saying by TV reports.

Hamza now has the daunting task of wooing independents and other small parties. “In addition to the independents, we are also in contact with the PML-Q and the PPP and are getting positive response from them,” he claimed. Like the PTI, Hamza too claimed that “required number of MPAs-elect” would side with the PML-N.

To a question of who would be the PML-N’s candidate for chief minister, Hamza said: “A decision in this regard will be taken after consultation in the party.”

Although his name is being floated for the top slot, sources say that if Nawaz’s party has any chances of forming a government in the Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif will be the ultimate candidate for it.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2018