LAHORE: Alarmed by the ‘weak’ position of some of its candidates, the PML-N leadership has ‘sacrificed’ two more ministers to boost the party’s campaign for the July 17 by-polls on 20 seats of the provincial assembly.
Provincial law and finance ministers — Malik Ahmad Khan and Sardar Awais Leghari — tendered their resignations to Punjab chief minister on Tuesday citing ‘personal reasons’. However, the PML-N claimed both ministers resigned, as they had to take part in the by-poll campaign of the party-backed candidates.
Just a day before the Eidul Azha, federal Minister for Economic Affairs Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Punjab Minister Salman Rafique had resigned to oversee the party campaign in PA-158, Lahore.
After the resignation of three Punjab ministers, Hamza’s cabinet has shrunk to five members, including two from its ally Pakistan Peoples Party. The PPP that announced support for the PML-N, however, did not follow suit despite the fact that its two ministers — Hasan Murtaza and Ali Haider Gilani — represented Jhang and Multan, respectively, where by-election will be held for three seats (PP-125, PP-127 and PP-217) out of the 20 Punjab Assembly seats on Sunday.
Malik Ahmed Khan, Awais Leghari to lead campaigns for candidates backed by PML-N; Sharifs warned of possible ‘revolt’ by local cadres
The PML-N believes Mr Leghari, former finance minister, could prove very effective in the election campaign in his hometown Dera Ghazi Khan, where the by-poll will be held for PP-288 seat. However, questions are being raised over the reason of Malik Ahmad Khan, who is from Kasur district, resignation.
The PML-N is backing 20 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dissidents who had voted for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son Hamza in the election of the chief minister in April. The Election Commission had subsequently deseated them on defection. Most of the PML-N ticket holders and loyal activists of these 20 constituencies are not happy with the leadership for awarding tickets to the ‘turncoats’, thus making the position of such candidates weak.
A party insider confided to Dawn that the Sharifs had woken up to ‘reports by party men’ that the position of their party-backed candidates in some constituencies was ‘weak’ due to a kind of ‘revolt within the local party cadre against them’ and a prompt aid should be sent to them in the form of the trusted lieutenants who could manage to help the candidates. “These ex-ministers will not only ensure support for the ‘weak candidates’ within the party by luring the angry workers but also lead their campaigns,” he said.
These polls will not only decide who rules Punjab for another year or so – Hamza Shehbaz or Chaudhry Parvez Elahi (PTI-PMLQ joint candidate for the top provincial slot), but also determine the outcome of the next general elections.
The Supreme Court has already announced re-election of the Punjab chief minister on July 22.
The PML-N-led coalition needs at least nine seats to achieve the 186-member majority in the assembly for Mr Hamza to survive as the CM, whereas Mr Elahi requires 13 more seats to add to his tally of 173 in the house in order to oust the junior Sharif.
The PML-N claims that it will bag most seats in the by-polls with Punjab being its stronghold, but resignations of four ministers, days ahead of the by-election, shows that the ruling party is not very confident in the face of the challenge posed by Imran Khan’s PTI in these constituencies. Mr Khan and PML-Q leader Parvez Elahi say their alliance would win all 20 seats and warn the ruling coalition of rigging the polls.
“Although PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz is vigorously campaigning for the party-backed candidates, the leadership thinks it also needs some other trustworthy faces than the ‘crowd puller (Maryam)’ to placate the concerns of its workers in these constituencies,” a PML- leader believed.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2022