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LAHORE: As PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif is busy short-listing candidates for the up-coming by-polls, the party’s three stalwarts are keen to contest from NA-124, Lahore, considering it a safe bet.

Mr Sharif on Tuesday conducted interviews of candidates in Model Town and also reviewed survey reports regarding the party’s potential candidates in different constituencies where by-polls would be held on Oct 14.

He will have to make a difficult decision with regard to NA-124 (old Lahore) that was vacated by his son Hamza. It is the only National Assembly seat in Punjab vacated by the PML-N.

Three PML-N bigwigs – former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former federal minister Abid Sher Ali and former Lahore mayor Khwaja Ahmad Hassan – are reportedly in the race for the party ticket for NA-124. The PML-N’s former MNAs Mehar Ishtiaq and Sohail Shaukat Butt are also lobbying for it. Former foreign minister Khwaja Asif also called on Shahbaz Sharif in Model Town on Tuesday and put his weight behind Mr Abbasi.

A party insider told Dawn that there had been two opinions within the PML-N; one that Mr Abbasi should be fielded in north Punjab - Attock, Rawalpindi or Islamabad (NA-53) – from where he was defeated by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan in July 25 election, while according to the other, the former premier, being an important leader of the party, should contest from NA-124, where chances of his victory were bright.

According to another leader from Punjab, Mr Abbasi would be given the ticket if he wished to contest from NA-124 because Nawaz Sharif himself wanted him to contest from Lahore. “At the moment Mr Abbasi is confused (as he has to decide) whether he should contest from Lahore or Islamabad,” he said.

Imran Khan had defeated Mr Abbasi in NA-53 (Islamabad) with a margin of more than 50,000 votes, making it difficult for the former premier to choose the constituency again for the by-poll bout. Another PML-N stalwart, Tariq Fzal Chaudhry, has come forward as an alternative if Mr Abbasi refuses to contest from NA-53. He also called on Shahbaz Sharif and expressed his desire to contest from this constituency. Mr Chaudhry had lost the July 25 election to Raja Khurram Shahzad of the PTI from NA-52 (Islamabad).

Meanwhile, for NA-131 (Lahore), that was vacated by Imran Khan, the PML-N leadership has given a go-ahead to MPA Saad Rafique. Mr Khan will have to make a difficult decision of picking his party’s candidate from among Waleed Iqbal, Humayun Akhtar and Omar Sarfraz Cheema, for NA-131. Waleed is hopeful because Mr Khan had ‘promised’ him the by-poll ticket.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has started receiving nomination papers which will be finalised by Sept 16.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2018