Abbasi may replace Shehbaz as opposition leader

Asif, Iqbal also being considered should PML-N president be convicted

Sardar Sikander October 16, 2018
Former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD:  Newly-elected Member of the National Assembly (MNA) and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi could be the new Leader of the Opposition in case Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief Shehbaz Sharif faces conviction in a mega corruption scam.

Shehbaz was remanded into National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) custody for 10 days by an accountability court on October 6, ending today (October 16).

The PML-N has widely dismissed his involvement in any kind of foul play in the Ashiana Housing Scheme however the party leadership is said to be weighing options in case Shehbaz faces conviction at the hands of the court.

LHC adjourns hearing of petition challenging Shehbaz's arrest

Shehbaz is accused of irregularities in an award of contract in the housing scheme which allegedly caused a loss of Rs193 million to national exchequer.

The former premier Abbasi is regarded as a trusted aide of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and was reportedly granted party ticket for NA-124, Lahore, in the by-elections on Sharif’s intervention. The said seat was won by Hamza Shehbaz, the PML-N chief’s son, in the July 25 general elections, who later vacated it and opted for his Punjab Assembly seat where he became Leader of the Opposition.

With Khawaja Saad Rafique also having won by-elections from NA-131 Lahore, PML-N has a number of leaders who are regarded as heavyweights to fill in Shehbaz’s NA slot, if he is convicted, including Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Ayaz Sadiq and Rana Sanaullah.

However, given that Abbasi became PM after Sharif’s disqualification in Panamagate case last year, he is reported to be an obvious choice on account of his close association to the former PML-N president.

Meanwhile, Chairman PML-N Raja Zafarul Haq denied any such development when approached for comment. “This is a far-flung and hypothetical assessment— to presume that he (Shehbaz) would face conviction. The party would review options should such a time arises. As of now, no such move is under consideration,” he said.

PML-N MNA Rana Sanaullah said charges against Shehbaz were ‘frivolous’ and that he could not be convicted on the basis of these charges by the accountability court. “There is hardly any chance that he (Shehbaz) would be convicted on the basis of baseless charges”.

“First, they accused him of corruption in Saaf Paani case but arrested him in another case. They are looking for solid excuses to frame him but are not able to find any,” said the former Punjab law minister adding in this kind of situation, the party has no reason to believe Shehbaz would be convicted if fair trial takes its course. “The question of a replacement therefore, does not arise.”


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