LAHORE: The PML-N on Friday dared PTI Chairman Imran Khan to dissolve the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies without any delay, saying the party ruling the federation was ready to hold polls in the two provinces in 90 days.

For the first time since Mr Khan announced his intention to dissolve the two provincial assemblies last month at a Rawalpindi rally, the PML-N shunned its defensive posture of asking him not to execute his plan.

“I challenge Imran Khan to immediately dissolve the [Punjab and KP] assemblies, and we will hold elections there [in both provinces] in 90 days. Imran should stop making lame excuses that he would dissolve the assemblies after Dec 20 or next week. Have courage and dissolve them immediately. We will defeat you in Punjab, which is 65 per cent [population] of Pakistan and the elections in both assemblies will also determine the outcome of the next general polls,” Interior Minister and PML-N Punjab chapter president Rana Sanaullah told a press conference on Friday.

Flanked by party’s provincial information secretary Azma Bokhari, Mr Sanaullah said the PML-N had also begun preparations to welcome its supreme leader and former premier Nawaz Sharif and a message in this regard had been conveyed to the party workers in Punjab and elsewhere.

When asked about the PML-N’s repeated claim that the elder Sharif was ‘soon’ returning to Pakistan from the UK, the minister said: “The party workers have been directed to start preparations to welcome Nawaz Sharif ….. and he will return ahead of the next polls as his presence will have a huge impact on the outcome of the elections.”

Rana Sanaullah says preparations for Nawaz’s homecoming underway

However, at the same time, Mr Sanaullah said the decision to return to Pakistan was taken ‘solely’ by Nawaz Sharif himself.

On different occasions the PML-N senior leaders have been giving the dates of Mr Sharif’s return. Federal minister Javed Latif has given at least three to four dates (of Mr Sharif’s return in the past), while this week federal minister Sardar Ayaz Sadiq claimed that the three-time premier would be back in the country in January.

A party insider told Dawn on Friday that no decision on the return of the elder Sharif had been taken yet.

“The PML-N leaders are only giving political statements with regard to Sharif’s return given the current political scenario. They are watching the moves of Imran Khan carefully and preparations are underway to seek legal relief from courts in cases against the elder Sharif to ensure his hurdle-free return. These two aspects will basically determine the date of his return,” he said.

No breakthrough in PTI-PML-N talks

Rana Sanaullah played down the talks between President Arif Alvi and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on snap polls. “Let me make it clear once again that the general elections will be held in October 2023. Dar sahib only briefed the president on economic issues [being faced by the country],” he said.

Imran Khan and other PTI leaders have made it clear that both Punjab and KP assemblies would be dissolved if the federal government did not agree on a date for early elections.

The interior minister also hinted that the PML-N and its allies, including the PPP, might contest the next polls jointly as the PTI was their main opponent.

“The PML-N and PPP are on the same page when it comes to elections in Punjab. We will fight like allies as our main opponent is the PTI,” he said, adding that Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi was not in favour of dissolution of the Punjab Assembly and if he wanted to join hands with the PML-N “we can discuss it”.

Shortlisting of candidates

As Nawaz Sharif has directed the PML-N Punjab leadership to shortlist the candidates for the Punjab Assembly election in case of its dissolution, Mr Sanaullah presided over a party meeting in Lahore on Friday and initiated the process in this respect.

“We have divided the nine divisions of Punjab into three groups and formed committees to nominate at least two suitable candidates in each provincial assembly constituency. The committee will give its recommendations within two weeks,” the minister said.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2022

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