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Shahbaz might not run for PM after all

By Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is likely to hold a high-level huddle of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders to review his earlier decision to elevate Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to the Centre, say party insiders.

The rumour mill has been busy churning over the past few days with speculation as to whether CM Sharif would even contest the NA-120 by-poll in Lahore.

Soon after the prime minister’s ouster, the PML-N parliamentary party had endorsed his nomination as the next prime minister for 10 months till the next election. Subsequently, CM Sharif had reportedly pitched his son, MNA Hamza Shahbaz, as his possible replacement in Punjab.

“To be or not to be — that is the situation CM Sharif is facing these days. Statements of close aides, like provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, that he should not leave the office of chief minister, are being construed by many in the PML-N as if the decision to elevate him to the Centre is not yet final,” a PML-N senior leader told Dawn on Wednesday.

PML-N insiders say Punjab is too important to be left to an inexperienced hand

After Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected prime minister on Tuesday, many in the Nawaz camp suggested that the former retain the position for the remaining term of the PML-N government, he said.

“Some tricky business is under way. We do not know what has happened after Nawaz Sharif nominated his brother for the PM slot. As of today, we are being told that Punjab is very important to the PML-N and it needs Shahbaz desperately…to continue his vigorous policies…the final decision of his elevation to the Centre will be taken in a few days,” the party leader adds.

There are also reports that Nawaz Sharif’s refusal to nominate his nephew Hamza as the chief minister of Punjab has annoyed his brother, who might choose not to give up the post in the province because of it.

“Nawaz Sharif will think many times before handing over Punjab to Hamza while his father is at the Centre. It seems that Hamza’s dream to get the top slot in Punjab may never be realised,” another party leader says, adding that CM Sharif appeared too keen to keep both posts in the family.

Then there is the question of whether Hamza is even capable of running the country’s most populous province, he says. Many MPAs are also wary of the possibility of him being chief minister.

The Punjab government admits to the debate over the chief minister’s elevation. “Some party leaders think Punjab is very important for the PML-N and Shahbaz Sharif should continue serving here, while others want to see him as premier. However, the party leadership will have to hold another parliamentary party meeting if it thinks it needs to revisit its earlier decision of endorsing Shahbaz for prime minister,” Punjab government’s spokesperson Malik Ahmad told Dawn. “As of now, there is no change in Shahbaz’s candidature for the prime minister slot,” he adds.

To a question of whether CM Sharif would contest the by-poll from more than one constituency in order to secure his passage to Islamabad, the spokesperson confirms that he will only contest polls from NA-120.

Mr Ahmad has stressed that there are no “Shahbaz or Nawaz camps” and that the two brothers are on the same page.

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