• Insiders say Nawaz withdrew from PM race to ensure Maryam gets CM slot
• One MNA, eight MPAs-elect join PML-N; four, including three PTI-backed candidates, head to IPP

LAHORE: After the nomination of PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif for the post of prime minister to lead a multi-party alliance in the Centre, resentment has been brewing in the former ruling party, which also spilled over onto social media.

Initially, the PML-N claimed its supreme leader Nawaz Sharif would be their pick for the coveted slot, corroborated by a full-throttle media campaign in the lead-up to the general elections.

However, the PML-N failed to clinch a simple majority, paving the way for the younger Sharif to become the prime ministerial candidate instead of his brother, who has served as the premier three times.

Now that he is “sidelined”, the rank and file in the party is finding it difficult to swallow the pill. On Wednesday, there were more than 91,000 tweets seemingly by PML-N supporters under the hashtag ‘*Pakistan Ko Nawaz Dou’.*

What happened to the election slogan ‘Pakistan Ko Nawaz Dou’ and is Nawaz’s political career over, were the questions frequently being asked by social media users in several tweets.

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif’s political secretary Senator Asif Kirmani also raised concerns over the nomination of Shehbaz Sharif as the PM nominee of the potential coalition government. “Nawaz Sharif made a brave decision to refuse premiership in a coalition government but those who voted for ‘Pakistan Ko Nawaz Dou’ are disappointed,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

He further said: “All roads lead to power politics! Middle class is rapidly vanishing. Educated jobless middle-class youth have revolted against this unjust system in the general election 2024! Political parties must change their strategy in order to gain support of the middle class and the poor.”

Maryam comes to defence

Eventually, Maryam Nawaz, who is the senior vice president and the Punjab chief minister candidate, stepped in to defend her father’s decision to withdraw from the race for the top slot, and linked the decision to the party’s failure to secure a clear majority in the Feb 8 polls.

“When Nawaz Sharif ruled on three previous occasions he had a majority in the lower house. During his (earlier) speeches he had said he would not become part of a coalition government. Those who know Nawaz are well aware that he is not interested in leading a coalition government,” she said.

Ms Sharif said her father will “supervise” the affairs of the Punjab and the federal governments while actively participating in the mainstream politics over the next five years. “Shehbaz and I are his soldiers, bound to follow his command. We will work under his leadership and supervision,” she added.

A source close to the Sharif family told Dawn that Nawaz Sharif decided to withdraw from the race for his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who will lead Punjab as the first woman chief minister of the largest province by population.

He said Nawaz Sharif could have become the premier of the coalition government but then Maryam would have no chance to become the Punjab CM. “For the love of his daughter, Nawaz sacrificed his wish to become PM for the fourth time,” he said.

A party insider told Dawn that it would have been had Nawaz Sharif been in the driving seat instead of Shehbaz Sharif, who should have been asked to take the helm in Punjab to reclaim the lost ground because of his vast experience as the provincial administrator. “The decision to appoint Maryam Nawaz, who is inexperienced, in this hostile environment is not a good move,” the insider said, claiming it “would rather prove to be a disaster”.

More independents join ‘N’, IPP

On Wednesday, the PML-N managed to secure the support of eight independent MPAs-elect and one MNA-elect whereas its partner Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) managed to convince four MPAs-elect, including three PTI-backed, to join the IPP.

Three PTI backed MPAs-elect — Sardar Awais Drashik (PP-296) Rajanpur; Zahid Ismaeel Bhutta (PP-270) Muzaffarghar; and Hafiz Tahir Qaisrani (PP-284) Taunsa; and independent Ghazanfar Abbas Cheena (PP-91) Bhakkar called on Aleem Khan in Lahore and announced joining the IPP. Aleem Khan claimed that another group of 10 to 15 MPAs-elect would soon join the IPP.

The PML-N, on the other hand, roped in independents from across Punjab.

MPAs-elect Sultan Bahu (PP-132) Nankana Sahib; Shazia Tareen (PP-225) Lodhran; Mahmood Qadir Laghari (PP-289) Dera Ghazi Khan; Hanif Patafi (PP-288) Dera Ghazi Khan; Ali Asghar Gurmani (PP-283) Layyah; and Taimur Lali (PP-94) Chiniot called on Maryam Nawaz and announced joining the PML-N.

Separately, MNA-elect Raza Hayat Hiraj (NA-144) Khanewal and MPAs-elect Akbar Hayat Haraj (PP-205) and Asghar Hayat Hiraj (PP-212) called on Shehbaz Sharif and announced joining the PML-N.

Last Monday, the PML-N issued a list of independents — two MNAs-elect and eight MPAs-elect — who had joined the party after the Feb 8 polls. They include PTI-backed Waseem Qadir from Lahore’s NA-121. According to unofficial election results, the PML-N has 79 seats in the national and 137 in the Punjab assemblies, respectively.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

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