LAHORE: In an apparent effort to dispel the impression that the PML-N is ‘running away’ from elections in Punjab, and seemingly out of legal options to forestall a possible dissolution of the provincial assembly, the party’s supreme leader, Nawaz Sharif, has directed the PML-N’s provincial chief to begin homework for shortlisting suitable candidates for polls.

However, party leaders insist they’re only preparing for the eventuality where the province goes to polls; they believe the ruling coalition in Punjab would not dissolve the legislature.

“Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah (who is also the PML-N’s Punjab president) will preside over the party’s provincial chapter meeting on Friday in Model Town regarding preparations for elections,” the party’s Punjab Information Secretary Azma Bokhari told Dawn on Tuesday.

She said the meeting had been called on the directions of the elder Sharif to initiate the shortlisting of suitable candidates for elections in case the Punjab Assembly was dissolved.

PML-N leader says ex-PM directed party to start short-listing candidates in case assembly dissolved

“However, let me tell you, Imran Khan will not have the [house] dissolved at the end of the day. But in case he does, we want to be fully prepared,” MPA Bokhari said.

Earlier, the Sharifs were reportedly advised by ‘well-wishers’ within the party to change their narrative of ‘saving Punjab Assembly at any cost’ and adopt a more confident tone that shows they are not afraid of contesting polls in case Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi dissolves the assembly at the request of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan.

The PML-N had claimed the party wanted to save the assemblies owing to constitutional, economic and law and order reasons.

Out of options?

As the PML-N announces preparations for elections, the party appears to have accepted it may be unable to block dissolution of the Punjab Assembly.

“After consultations with its legal brains, the PML-N seems to have arrived at a conclusion that it doesn’t have many options to forestall the dissolution of the PA, so it is better to prepare to go to polls in the province (if and when the assembly is dissolved),” a party source told Dawn on Tuesday.

He said even the efforts of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, who had been tasked by the PDM to woo ‘disgruntled’ PTI MPAs, could not bear fruit as yet, nor could Opposition Leader in the PA Hamza Shehbaz manage to convince PTI MPAs to switch loyalties.

The source said in case the opposition failed to table a no-trust move against the Punjab CM, imposition of governor’s rule and seeking a vote of confidence from the CM were the other options, which could not be exercised as the PA was in session. “Keeping such a scenario in mind, the PML-N supremo has given a go-ahead to the party’s Punjab chapter to launch election preparations,” he added.

Talking to a private TV channel on Tuesday, Interior Minister Sanaullah asked CM Elahi to dissolve the assembly, as his party was ready to contest elections.

Nawaz’s return

On the other hand, former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has claimed that former premier Nawaz was returning to Pakistan in January.

“Nawaz Sharif will return to the country next month and also award party tickets to those aspiring to contest the polls,” the federal minister told a private TV channel on Tuesday.

In the party’s recent meetings, a good number of leaders had requested the elder Sharif to return and face the challenge posed by Imran Khan. Senior leaders like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Sanaullah have previously said Nawaz would be in Pakistan ahead of the next general elections.

“Nawaz Sharif is looking for some relief in the corruption cases to pave the way for his return,” the source said.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

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