PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is set to return to Pakistan on October 21, ending his four-year exile in the UK, his brother and party president Shehbaz Sharif confirmed on Tuesday.
A statement by Shehbaz, shared by PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb on social media platform X, said that the party founder would be given a grand welcome upon return.
Talking to the media in London alongside Nawaz today, Shehbaz said on the announced date: “This decision was taken after consultation with the party and according to this, Nawaz Sharif [will return to the country] on October 21.”
He specified in response to a question that the elder Sharif would land in Lahore and Shehbaz would receive his elder brother.
“The whole nation is awaiting Nawaz Sharif’s return. The country and economy will progress again in the same way where Nawaz Sharif left Pakistan in 2017” when he was disqualified and removed from power, Shehbaz said.
Questioned about the PPP’s apprehensions on the matter of elections and the PML-N’s stance on timely elections, Shehbaz said holding elections was the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) constitutional duty.
“It is the ECP’s responsibility to hold elections in line with the new census and I fully hope that it will fulfil its constitutional responsibility.”
Shehbaz had said in July that if the PML-N was voted to power in the forthcoming elections, Nawaz would be the party’s candidate for the slot of prime minister.
The PML-N is currently bearing the brunt of public discontent in the country, primarily because the party led the former coalition government that implemented certain decisions, chief among them being a nationwide fury over inflated power bills.
Compounded by the absence of the party’s founder from the country, the PML-N is also grappling with internal pressures, as calls within the party intensify for the return of their party supremo. Shehbaz had went to London soon after the caretaker set-up took office last month.
In a recent interview, senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif had also said that the party’s senior leadership — the Sharif brothers — needed to be in Pakistan.
The PML-N leadership last month deliberated the possibility of applying for bail in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the party supremo before his return to the country, said a Dawn report citing sources.
Nawaz was convicted in the Al-Azizia Mills and Avenfield corruption cases in 2018. The cases are still sub-judice.
The elder Sharif left the country in November 2019 on medical grounds following his conviction in a corruption case but never returned. Nawaz’s departure took place approximately 20 days after the Islamabad High Court’s order, which granted him temporary relief on medical grounds in the Al Azizia case.
It is pertinent to mention here that in June 2023, in what was seen as a move to pave the way for Nawaz’s return, the National Assembly and Senate approved the Elections (Amendment) Act 2023 in June, which empowered the Election Commission of Pakistan to unilaterally fix the date for elections and also limits the lawmakers’ disqualification period to five years with retrospective effect.
The bill, dubbed as “person-specific legislation” by the opposition, was expected to benefit Nawaz and newly-formed Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) patron Jahangir Khan Tareen. The two were disqualified for life more than five years ago after a Supreme Court judgement ruled that the disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution was for life.
In June, an accountability court also acquitted Nawaz in a reference pertaining to the alleged illegal allotment of plots in 1986 to the owner of a media house.
The case was among several others in which members of the Sharif family were cleared after a ruling coalition led by the PML-N came to power in April last year following the ouster of PTI chief Imran Khan as the prime minister through a no-confidence vote.