• Sanaullah briefs Nawaz on ‘loss of face’ in trust vote
• Governor says he will sign Elahi’s advice
• Party believes time ripe for Nawaz’s return
• CM to write to Hamza for caretaker set-up

LAHORE: At a huddle with senior PML-N leaders, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday discussed the party’s future action plan in the wake of Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s advice a day earlier seeking dissolution of the Punjab Assembly.

As the party discussed how Mr Elahi managed to win the trust vote despite the ‘best’ efforts of PML-N and PPP to stop the development, Governor Balighur Rehman in a media talk said he would sign the summary for the dissolution of the legislature ‘after going through all legal aspects’.

Mr Rehman is likely to have a meeting with PM Shehbaz on the issue on Saturday (today).

The return of the party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif was also a subject of the discussion at the key meeting as PML-N leaders were of the view his presence in Pakistan is a must if the party has to go into polls, a party insider told Dawn.

He said the premier told the participants to put up a brave face on the prospect of going into polls and need not be ‘apologetic’.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and PM’s special assistant on interior Attaullah Tarar were among the others present in the meeting.

“Rana Sanaullah briefed the meeting as to how Mr Elahi managed to woo at least five angry lawmakers of the ruling coalition (in Punjab) at the last minute and that if that had not happened the federal coalition would have been in the game,” the insider said.

In a phone call to Nawaz Sharif, Mr Sanaullah explained the reasons behind the PML-N’s failure to cause required defections in the parliamentary parties of PTI and PML-Q during Mr Elahi’s trust vote.

PML-N’s over-reliance on the establishment and Asif Ali Zardari reportedly was one of the major factors for the party’s failure to cause required defections in the PTI-PML-Q alliance, the meeting was told.

According to the insider, Mr Sanaullah suggested that Governor Balighur Rehman should not sign the summary (and let the legislature stand dissolved 48 hours — Saturday evening — from the time the CM sent it to governor).

However, there were no takers of the suggestion at the meeting.

The insider said the governor was likely to sign the summary.

‘Unconstitutional step’

Mr Sanaullah, who is also PML-N Punjab chapter president, told reporters after the meeting that his party did not want to become part of PTI chairman Imran Khan’s unconstitutional step of dissolution of assemblies.

Mr Khan has also announced dissolution of the KP assembly once the Punjab PA is disbanded.

“The prime minister discussed the political situation. We have decided not to become part of the illegal and unconstitutional process of dissolution of the assemblies,” Mr Sanaullah said and added that a martial law administrator would dissolve assemblies in the past and now a ‘political dictator’ (Imran Khan) is doing so.

“We tried our best not to become part of the dissolution of the provincial assembly,” he said and added “if elections were held (in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)” the PML-N was ready for this.

Khawaja Asif said PML-N was not afraid of going into polls. “If the assembly is dissolved, we are ready for elections in Punjab,” he said, adding what was going to happen to Imran Khan at the end of the day would be seen by everyone.

Mr Tarar said PML-N was ready to face any kind of challenge in days to come and was fully prepared for polls as well.

“Our central leadership will soon return from abroad. Our focus is on our next strategy,” Mr Tarar said and mocked the PTI for dissolving its own government.

“The PTI wanted to topple the PML-N-led government in the Centre but it sent its own Punjab government home,” he said.

Governor consults legal experts

Meanwhile, Governor Balighur Rehman consulted his legal team over the PA dissolution summary. He is likely to have a meeting with PM Shehbaz on Saturday (today) in this regard.

In a media talk on Friday, the governor said it was a difficult task for a democratic person to dissolve the assembly, but there was a provision in the Constitution (to do so).

“However, it is my duty to see it from all aspects. A decision to sign the summary will be taken after taking cognisance of all the constitutional and legal aspects,” Mr Rehman said. A caretaker set-up and the date of the next election had also to be given, therefore, he would take a decision keeping all these aspects in view, he said.

Mysterious disappearance

The PTI has said that CM Elahi would write to Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz for consultation for formation of a caretaker set-up after the dissolution of the assembly, but the latter has been out of the country for the last one month or so.

The PML-N is still not sure when Hamza would return.

“If Hamza does not return from the United States shortly, he may respond to CM Elahi’s letter from abroad,” a PML-N leader close to Mr Hamza told Dawn.

Mr Hamza, elder son of PM Shehbaz, came under criticism within the party ranks for his ‘long absence’, especially during the all-important session when CM Elahi took the trust vote.

His absence sparked speculations that “all is not well in the house of Sharifs, especially after the elevation of his cousin Maryam Nawaz in the party rank, virtually making her head of PML-N”.

Besides, Punjab PA Speaker Sibtain Khan told a private news channel that the chief minister could only consider taking back his advice if the federal coalition agreed on ‘giving a date for general elections’.

“I heard that the PML-N leader in London (Nawaz Sharif) has directed his party men to start preparations for elections,” the speaker said and added that after dissolution of PA the opposition leader would be consulted by the CM for a caretaker set-up.

“If no consensus is reached within three days, then the provincial government and opposition will submit names in this regard to me… to be forwarded to the Election Commission for selection of a caretaker chief minister from among them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rana Sanaullah claimed that Mr Elahi had approached some PML-N men to submit a resolution for vote of no confidence against the CM in the assembly, but they refused.

Sibtain Khan dismissed the claim, terming it mere propaganda as the opposition did not have the required 186 votes to oust the CM.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2023

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