LAHORE: As their demand for the accountability of Imran Khan seems closer to materialising, the younger generation of Sharifs — Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz — are all set to wade into the arena of electoral politics from Lahore.

Following Hamza’s return from an extended trip abroad in what is being seen by some observers as a bid to “claim his stake in the party” that is currently being steered by Ms Sharif, both cousins are now expected to run for election to the provincial assembly.

Hamza, the son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who had a short-lived stint as Punjab CM last year, returned on Tuesday from the United States via Saudi Arabia.

In case Mr Khan goes to prison, the PML-N’s stated objective of ‘Imran’s accountability first, elections later’ may be seen as having been fulfilled, a PML-N leader in Punjab told Dawn on Tuesday.

He said there was no secret to the PML-N’s demand, as Maryam Nawaz had repeatedly been asking for action against Imran Khan and relief for her father, Nawaz Sharif, as a precondition for holding polls in both provinces.

“Now if Mr Khan goes to jail … it will be much easier for his opponents, especially the PML-N, to manage the election in Punjab,” he said, citing the arrest of Nawaz Sharif before the July 2018 general elections.

“When Mr Sharif was arrested ahead of 2018 general elections, his party lost the polls and the PML-N had blamed the powers that be for manipulating the elections to bring its then-favourite party, the PTI, to power,” he said.

“Now Mr Khan will be in jail and the PML-N, which currently is enjoying better ties with the powers that be, is better placed to go into polls in Punjab,” he said.

As far as the internal politics of PML-N is concerned, Hamza Shahbaz reportedly returned to the country on the instructions of his father.

“Hamza’s return is being read in the party ranks as a go-ahead signal from the party elders to roll up their sleeves for Punjab elections. Since Hamza was the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly and also remained the chief minister for a brief stint, he will join Maryam in shortlisting the candidates for Punjab,” a party insider said.

Mr Hamza was out of the political scene since he lost the Punjab chief minister office to PML-Q’s Chaudhry Parvez Elahi in July last year. Mr Elahi has since joined the PTI.

Speculations were rife that Hamza Shahbaz was unhappy after Ms Sharif was made the PML-N’s chief organiser, as it sent a clear message to the Shehbaz and Hamza camp that she would be the “ultimate boss” in the party and would be her father’s successor.

As Maryam has already expressed her desire to grab the slot of chief minister if her party wins in Punjab, Hamza feels his position completely threatened.

The party says both cousins would be taken on board in shortlisting of candidates in Punjab. The final decision will rest with the party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif.

Against the backdrop of the police operation to arrest Imran Khan from his Zaman Park residence, Maryam Nawaz Sharif said the PML-N had entered the political arena and it would win the elections in Punjab.

“The PML-N has launched its election campaign in Punjab and will win with an overwhelming majority,” she told party workers at a public meeting in Sheikhupura on Tuesday.

Ms Sharif and her father also chided Imran Khan for resisting his arrest. She said she and her father had offered their arrest without any resistance on their return to London in 2018.

Nawaz Sharif in a tweet from London said: “Because of the fear of arrest, Imran put up a circus. He should have quit politics instead of showing cowardice.”

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2023

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