Scramble for coveted Punjab CM slot

Published July 29, 2018
NEWLY-elected independent candidates Rafaqat Ali Gillani (centre), Muhammad Hanif Pitafi (left) and Muhammad Basharat Randhawa, who joined PTI, talk to the media after a meeting with party chairman Imran Khan on Saturday. Mr Randhawa and Mr Gillani had contested the election after they were denied the PTI tickets.—AFP
NEWLY-elected independent candidates Rafaqat Ali Gillani (centre), Muhammad Hanif Pitafi (left) and Muhammad Basharat Randhawa, who joined PTI, talk to the media after a meeting with party chairman Imran Khan on Saturday. Mr Randhawa and Mr Gillani had contested the election after they were denied the PTI tickets.—AFP

LAHORE: As the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lock horns over who will get to form the next government in Punjab, the latter appears to be in a fix over deciding who, out of its 120 MPAs-elect, it would field for the post of provincial chief minister, especially since the candidates proposed so far have been dropping out of the race one after the other.

Both rival parties failed to win an outright majority in the province. The PML-N is in the lead with 127 seats, while the PTI has grabbed 123 seats through direct election.

For the PTI, the most important order of the day is to bring on board the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which has seven seats, and 28 independent candidates. So far, five independent candidates have met the PM-in-waiting Imran Khan at his Banigala residence, and four of them announced their decision to join the party before the media.

Dr Yasmin Rashid of PTI emerges as new possible contender

They are Syed Hussain Jaha­nian Gardezi from PP-204 (Khanewal-II), Muhammad Basharat Randhawa from PP-282 (Layyah-III), Syed Rafaqat Ali Gillani from PP-284 (Layyah-V) and Hanif Khan Pitafi from PP-289 (Dera Ghazi Khan).

Mr Gillani and Mr Randhawa were earlier denied PTI tickets, so they contested as independents and defeated the two female candidates who had been given PTI tickets.

It was a busy day for Mr Khan on Saturday who held a series of meetings with people coming to express support for the new government.

However it appears that the party was not prepared for a situation in which it could present a candidate for chief minister. A senior party leader says, “For the time being, there is an impasse on finding a suitable candidate for Punjab chief ministership.”

Sources privy to development told Dawn that Mr Khan had fumed at the party’s central Punjab president Abdul Aleem Khan for failing to find and field winning candidates in his jurisdiction and pushed the party to look for support among independents and smaller parties. The PTI could win 10 out of 43 National Assembly seats from central Punjab.

Soon afterwards, Aleem Khan spoke to journalists admitting that he had made mistakes in awarding tickets. In the same breath, he said, he was not a candidate for the Punjab chief minister slot. “Imran Khan will choose and nominate a party member from amongst the winning candidates to become the chief minister of Punjab,” he said.

Sources said the PTI chairman had straight up rejected the party’s central information secretary Fawad Chaudhry and former opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed as possible candidates. Mr Khan, however, did not outright reject Dr Yasmin Rashid’s name for chief minister.

Now that three possible candidates are no longer in the run, the PTI may find itself fielding Dr Yasmin Rashid, who enjoys a good reputation in political circles and has proved to be a committed and tireless party worker. She will join the provincial assembly as a candidate on a reserved seat.

While there were rumours that she may be fielded as a party candidate for by-election and join the National Assembly, sources closed to developments say that Imran Khan has asked her to stay back in Punjab and spearhead the health sector of the province that is home to 63 per cent of the country’s population. “Since health sector is close to my heart, do serve in Punjab for the well-being of the poor and under-privileged,” Mr Khan was heard saying.

While Dr Rashid apologised for losing the National Assembly seat despite all her efforts, Mr Khan reportedly told her that she was still a favourite across Pakistan.

In the absence of a suitable candidate, PTI MPA Mian Aslam Iqbal is also trying to project himself as a possible candidate for the chief minister slot. Considered a vocal leader in the party, Mr Iqbal had even outshone the opposition leader on many occasions and cornered the PML-N’s omnipotent treasury in the Punjab Assembly. He is also being lauded for winning a seat for a second time for the party and remained a front runner in all party endeavours including sit-ins, protests and public gatherings.

Since former chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has been elected from both National and Punjab Assembly seats, the PTI is urging Mr Elahi to join the federal government with a major position.

Sources claimed that Imran Khan wanted to form a government in Punjab, not matter what. Interestingly enough, party insiders say, the embracing of disgruntled elements would be considered a U-turn since the party had announced that it would take disciplinary action against them.

Addressing a public meeting in Shahdra (NA-123) a week before the election, Mr Khan had also appealed to party workers who had decided to contest election as independent candidates to withdraw in favour of party candidates and avoid damaging their own reputation as well as party’s stakes.

While the party is making all-out efforts to woo 28 independents, party vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi has expressed his resentment against the party’s decision to approach independent candidate Muhammad Nadeem Qureshi, to whom he lost his election in PP-217.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2018



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