Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of ousted Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif, will head the ruling PML-N instead of contesting a parliamentary by-election for the vacant seat, according to media reports. This effectively scuttling previous plans for Shahbaz to take over as prime minister in September.
Sharif, 68, was disqualified by the Supreme Court (SC) last month but kept his grip on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and outlined plans for Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to act as interim prime minister until his brother, Shahbaz, currently Punjab Chief Minister (CM), becomes eligible to take over by winning the by-election.
But Sharif and PML-N leadership have decided that Shahbaz should continue in his role as CM of the politically vital Punjab province that accounts for more than half of Pakistan’s 190 million people.
A senior PML-N member in Lahore confirmed Reuters that Shahbaz would not be contesting the seat, a move likely to leave Abbasi in charge until the next general elections, likely in mid-2018.
PML-N officials told the media, the main reason as to why Shahbaz may not take over is linked to the general elections and the party’s fears that its grip on the vital Punjab province will weaken if he steps down as CM.
Instead, PML-N is set to take decision to elect Shahbaz as the party president after Election Commission (ECP) asked Nawaz to step down from party position. A formal announcement in this regard would be made in a day or two, said senior leader Raja Zafarul Haq while giving an interview to BBC Urdu on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, the ECP issued a notice to the PML-N for the appointment of a new party leader.
According to DawnNews, shortly after the ECP’s notification was issued, the PML-N held a high-level meeting of senior party members, including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar.
The notice comes a day before Nawaz Sharif is set to travel from Islamabad to his hometown Lahore in what is set to be a ‘historic’ two-day rally undertaken by the PML-N and ousted prime minister to garner much-needed political mileage in the face of the challenges its government is facing.
Nawaz resigned last month after the SC disqualified him for not declaring a small source of income – something he rejects receiving.
The veteran leader has criticised the court’s decision and today (9 August 2017) plans to begin a two-day drive to Lahore via all the major towns along the way, a move that his supporters say will show how popular he remains with voters.
His supporters also argue that it is not clear if the SC disqualification means he is barred from contesting the next election.
Nawaz’s rival, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, had urged the PML-N to distance itself from the ousted premier, warning that it would “ruin itself” if it did not do so.
Khan had also alleged that Sharif’s plan to travel to Lahore with a cavalcade on GT Road was a “deliberate attempt to undermine the Supreme Court” by calling into question its verdict in the Panama Papers case.
Sharif, while discussing the case with television anchors on Tuesday, said that the procession was not “a protest” but “a journey back home” that he was undertaking because “risks need to be taken for the country”.