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ISLAMABAD: Heavyweights in Punjab chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are eyeing the coveted slot of provincial president which will be left vacant after the elevation of Shehbaz Sharif as the party’s central president on March 6.
PML-N’s Provincial Secretary General Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Iqbal and Shehbaz’s son Hamza are among the candidates to head the N-League’s Punjab chapter, The Express Tribune has learnt.
In case the party leadership fails to finalise a candidate, Shehbaz might continue in his present role until a regular appointment is made, it is further learnt.
According to party sources, if Ashfaq gets elevated as Punjab president, the post of secretary general will have to be filled in, for which his brother and incumbent Joint Secretary Raja Attique Sarwar could be a potential candidate.
However, the sources believe it is highly unlikely that the top two positions in the party are occupied by two brothers. Therefore, a new race would start for the secretary general’s position if Ashfaq becomes provincial president.
Among the aspiring quartet, Sanaullah is regarded as a trusted aide to Shehbaz and thus rated as the most powerful candidate.
However, there are some groups in the party who oppose Sanaullah, blaming him for the emergence of split factions in the PML-N Punjab.
Provincial Speaker Rana Iqbal appears to be acceptable to many in the party given his ‘mild’ and ‘diplomatic’ style, while conducting the proceedings of the provincial legislature.
Party insiders believe that Shehbaz as the new central president would prefer a ‘harmless’ person like Iqbal in order to maintain control over the party at the Centre and in the province.
Hamza has long been regarded as an aspirant for the post of Punjab president. Back in 2016, Shehbaz also wanted his son to replace him. But the plan had to be dropped because of opposition from Kulsoom Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz, the sources said.
Again, some PML-N circles say it is unlikely that a father-son duo get the top party positions — at the Centre and in the province.
Party stalwarts at the Centre say that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s wife and daughter agreed to Shehbaz’s rise as PML-N president, and in return a candidate from ‘Maryam’s lobby’ is being placed at the top of the party’s provincial chapter.
But the leaders in the provincial chapter deny the possibility, saying that Maryam lacks any support base in the party’s Punjab chapter because she focused solely at the Centre when her father headed the party.
Regarded as one of the most powerful positions in the PML-N, Punjab’s provincial chief wields more importance and ‘nuisance value’ compared to other provincial chiefs of the party because it is this province where the N-League draws its major political vote bank.
At present, the party leadership is considering choosing a candidate for PML-N Punjab chief, whose candidature is approved by the powerful groups in the party, discussions with informed party leaders suggest.
“This would be tricky,” said a PML-N legislator, who is also a party office-bearer in Punjab.
“At a time when the party faces serious challenges coming from within and without, in the shape of internal divide, grouping, tug-of-war between party lobbies as well as the court cases and legal references – we need a candidate who enjoys a great deal of acceptability in the party’s senior ranks in Punjab,” a source said.