Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Friday that the party has begun preparations to “welcome” former premier Nawaz Sharif, as his return would tip the results in the party’s favour if an election were to be held in Punjab.
“We have begun preparations to welcome Nawaz from today,” the minister — who is also the PML-N’s provincial president — said at a press conference in Lahore alongside Punjab Information Secretary Azma Bokhari.
Nawaz has been living in London since November 2019 after he was allowed to leave the country for medical treatment.
Earlier this week, however, Nawaz — 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 — directed Sanaullah to begin homework for shortlisting suitable candidates for polls.
Last month, PTI chief Imran Khan had announced that his party would disassociate itself from the “current corrupt political system” by quitting the assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.
Addressing today’s press conference, Sanaullah challenged the PTI chief to dissolve the Punjab Assembly, saying: “We have decided to fight and prepare for the elections.”
He said the “PML-N has taken decisions” and would meet later in the day to implement them.
Sanaullah further said the PML-N supremo’s return would decide the results of the election in Punjab and predicted that the PTI would face defeat. “We are democratic people and are in favour of letting assemblies complete their tenure. But we are not afraid of PTI’s harmless threats.”
With regard to the party’s election campaign, the PML-N leader said the party has divided the nine divisions of Punjab into three parts, adding that committees have been formed to meet party leaders and nominate two candidates in each constituency within two weeks.
“The committees will consist of senior PML N parliamentarians. They will meet the sitting MPAs and those interested in contesting the election. They will visit every constituency and finalise two candidates from each constituency within two weeks.”
The committees will then forward their recommendations to the party higher-ups who would then make a decision on the candidacies, he said.
He further said that committees would also be formed at the union council level for Nawaz’s return. “PML-N workers, under the union council name and banner, will reach Lahore to welcome Nawaz Sharif.
“This welcome will also decide the fate of the election. When the election is announced, Mian Nawaz Sharif will return back to lead the party in the [Punjab] elections.”
The minister asserted that general elections would take place in October 2023. “But if one assembly or both are dissolved, the provincial elections will take place within 90 days”.
Sanaullah went on to say that he was privy to information which suggested Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi — who is in power in the province due the PTI’s support — was not in favour of dissolving the assembly.
“If the PTI is claiming it is not dissolving assemblies due to obstacles from our side, then let me make it clear that there are no obstacles apart from the fact that we are not in favour of the move.”
He further said that the PML-N and the PPP were on the same page when it came to elections in Punjab. “We will fight like allies but the main contest is with the PTI.”
Later in the day, Sanaullah again challenged the PTI to dissolve the assemblies, claiming that the party would be defeated in the subsequent Punjab elections.