LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is likely to face a serious problem in the selection of a candidate for a by-election on a National Assembly seat in Lahore that fell vacant after the death of Pervaiz Malik on Monday.

PTI Central Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry had contested the 2018 election against the PML-N stalwart and lost with a margin of some 12,000 votes.

For being a senior and active party leader, Mr Chaudhry, however, was awarded a ticket to contest the Senate seat along with other party candidates and got elected. After a mutual understanding between the government and opposition, brokered by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, all the 11 candidates were elected unopposed in February this year. Five Senate seats each had gone to the PTI and PML-N, and one to PML-Q.

After Mr Chaudhry was elevated to Senate, sources in the party say there is a dearth of party leaders in the constituency, who may face the PML-N in Lahore and may not be willing to spend a huge sum of money in the by-election.

The tenure for the seat will not be more than one year, thus having a little charm for the aspirants.

Since Mr Chaudhry had continued actively working in the constituency even after losing the election, some forces in the federal capital suggest that Prime Minister Imran Khan may ask Mr Chaudhry to contest the election. The prime minister wants to make finance minister Shaukat Tarin a senator so that he may continue on his position legally. However, the premier is finding it hard to get him adjusted since no Senate seat is currently vacant.

Sources believe that Ejaz Chaudhry will have no issue to say goodbye to the senatorship provided he is promised to make Punjab governor at some point in time by PM Khan since incumbent governor Sarwar has ‘already been asked to step down’.

But those close to the governor say the threat of his removal has been averted and Sarwar has gone to Europe to contest for the continuation of Pakistan’s GSP plus status.

Mr Tarin was made finance minister ahead of the federal budget and his six months’ time limit to be elected as a member of parliament for continuation as finance minister is set to expire on Oct 16 – just five days to go. If the PTI government will not be able to elect him as senator by Oct 16, Mr Tarin would be reverted to adviser to PM on finance.

Sources in the party say Mr Chaudhry may be made a ‘scapegoat’ but he himself was not willing to vacate the seat to contest the election for the remaining period of the current assemblies. They also fear that the PTI’s “same-page” story is no longer relevant.

It is learnt that the Election Commission of Pakistan might be announcing the by-election schedule for NA-133 in a few days.

On the other hand, PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif will finalise the candidate of the party after consulting with Shehbaz Sharif and other party leaders. The PML-N has suspended political activities for two days to mourn the death of Pervaiz Malik.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2021

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