ISLAMABAD: The worst nightmare of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has come true. The apex court has ousted Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, but as the head of the ruling party he will be able to nominate his successor.
A guessing game had been ongoing much before Friday’s judgment that the party was planning to bring in an interim prime minister for a few weeks before electing Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz Sharif to the coveted post.
Many senior leaders of the party are being tipped for the stopgap arrangement. Among them are key cabinet members Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.
Shehbaz would have to step down as chief minister of Punjab and be elected to the National Assembly before he is eligible to become prime minister. Sources say there would not be any change in the federal cabinet once the new prime minister takes over, though some portfolios might be reshuffled.
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The PML-N’s parliamentary party is expected to formally approve the nomination of Shehbaz and an interim prime minister today (Saturday). Sharif’s successor would be required to get a vote of confidence from the National Assembly which is expected to convene on Monday.
Since Sharif has also been disqualified as president of the PML-N, sources say the PML-N’s parliamentary party meeting has been convened by leader of the house in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, in his capacity as chairman of the PML-N.
Meanwhile for the interim period, the names of Asif, Ahsan, Abbasi and Sadiq are making round in the media. Technically, the PML-N might face problems in picking Asif and Ahsan because they, too, have turned out to be holders of ‘Iqamas’ (foreign work permits) in the Middle East.
Sources, however, say the PML-N leadership believes it is not an issue. “Our leadership is not worried about this. Right now, the party command is set to throw its weight behind its favourite candidates irrespective of consequences,” a senior PML-N leader said requesting anonymity. “In case the scandals involving them [Asif and Ahsan] end up in litigation, the cases will be contested.”
Sources say the party leadership has not been on good terms with the security establishment since it objected to the presence of a member of a premier security agency in the Joint Investigation Team which probed the Sharif family’s murky financial dealings abroad and paved way for the ouster of the prime minister.
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Party insiders say the PML-N leadership would like to see Asif in the Prime House against the backdrop of the government’s confrontation with the establishment. “Khawaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have never been on good terms due to the former’s critical views about the security establishment. Elevating him as interim prime minister would imply that Sharif is in no mood to mend fences with the establishment,” one insider told The Express Tribune.
If Shehbaz is picked for the top slot, which in all likelihood he will be, the PML-N would have to bring in someone to step into his shoes in Punjab. The names of Rana Sanaullah, Chaudhry Nisar, and Hamza Shehbaz under consideration for the slot of chief minister Punjab, the insider said.
Nisar, who stopped short of quitting politics a day earlier, came to the Prime Minister House in solidarity with Sharif and to attend the consultative sessions on Friday where JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also showed up to renew his support for Sharif in the critical hour.
ECP’s former secretary Kanwar Dilshad argues that in the absence of the prime minister and his cabinet, an ‘informal’ presidential rule is in place in the country. “In such a situation, the president runs the affairs of the government till a new premier takes over,” he told The Express Tribune.
The president, he says, runs the government’s affairs through the secretary establishment division. “Such situations are rare when the government becomes headless due to the absence of the premier and his cabinet. but whenever such a situation arises, the cabinet division secretary assumes one of the most important roles as the president runs the government through the secretary cabinet division,” Dilshad said.
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He said the National Assembly would be required to elect a new speaker before the election of the leader of the house (PM) in case Ayaz Sadiq is chosen for the PM’s slot. “But I can’t see this happening. I think the government would not want to get into complexities.”
The members of the Sharif family, including the former prime minister, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and other family members, have vacated the Prime Minister House on Friday evening and moved to the Punjab House following Sharif’s disqualification.
An official source told The Express Tribune that though the family has shifted from the PM House, their belongings were still in the official mansion which would be moved out gradually in the coming days. It is expected that Sharif and his family would shift to their Raiwind residence in Lahore soon.
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