ISLAMABAD: Amid an impasse over the name for a caretaker chief minister in Punjab and after the PTI branded PML-N’s two nominees as a joke, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif spent the entire day in Lahore and fell back on his main allies on Tuesday to find a way out.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Mr Sharif telephoned PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Punjab opposition leader Hamza Shehbaz, who is currently abroad, earlier nominated Mohsin Naqvi and Ahad Cheema for the caretaker chief minister’s position.

Mr Cheema is a confidant of Mr Sharif and presently serving as his adviser. In the last PTI government, Mr Cheema had remained in hot water and faced a white-collar crime case investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but nothing came out of it.

Mr Naqvi is a senior journalist and presently running a few TV channels and newspapers. He was once said to be a close friend of PPP leader and former president Asif Ali Zardari.

Before Hamza Shahbaz placed his nominees, the PTI and the PML-Q on Sunday finalised three consensus candidates as their nominees for the appointment of a caretaker chief minister in the province. The nominees included Cabinet Secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera, former health minister Naseer Khan, and former chief secretary Nasir Saeed Khosa.

Later, in a tweet, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the premier had spoken to Mr Zardari, Maulana Fazl and Chaudhry Shujaat on the phone to discuss the matter and the country’s overall political situation.

In a letter sent to Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman, Mr Hamza disapproved of the nominees proposed by outgoing Chief Minister Parvez Elahi.

He said that since he was abroad, he was appointing the prime minister’s spokesperson Malik Ahmed Khan to coordinate the chief minister’s issue.

Political experts believed that both Parvez Elahi and Hamza Shahbaz would never agree on a candidate nominated by them and therefore, according to the Constitution, the matter would be decided by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, who will then choose one name among the candidates nominated by the two sides.

It is also believed that PTI Chairman Imran Khan, who has been against CEC and bashing him day and night for allegedly favouring the PML-N-led government in the Centre, would try to make Mr Raja’s decision controversial, but Mr Khan’s claim would not have any legal and constitutional standing.

Experts said the CEC would consider three main aspects while choosing a candidate — that the candidate must be a good administrator and have experience and capability to run the provincial government; must be the one who will be least controversial among those in the run; and that he and the CEC would have comfort level while working with each other.

A source close to the prime minister said Mr Sharif spent the whole day in Lahore, his hometown, on Tuesday and monitored the political situation.

The premier is likely to remain in the city on Wednesday (today) as well.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2023

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