LAHORE  -  There is no clarity as yet as to who would be the next Punjab chief minister though the PTI has got close to the magic figure required to form its government in the biggest province. 

At this stage, the prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan is perhaps more into the political wheeling and dealing to form governments in the Centre and in Punjab than to deliberate on the most contentious issue of naming someone as the new Punjab chief minister.

Also, the numbers’ game in Punjab is still on with the PTI and the PML-N struggling to allure independents to establish claim on the formation of provincial government.

Though there is remote possibility of the PML-N forming its government in Punjab, the PML-N has finalized the name of Hamza Shehbaz for the chief minister’s office.

Party sources said that that PTI’s list of hopefuls for the coveted slot is not too long. A few names are under consideration, but a final decision will be made after the numbers are complete to form the government, they said.  

The selection of new Punjab chief minister has come as another difficult challenge for Imran Khan after the ticket distribution phase.

From amongst the aspirants for this office, Shah Mehmood Qureshi is still the hot favorite though he is yet to become an MPA in by-polls to be held on a seat to be vacated by some party legislator. In case, the lady luck smiles on him, Mian Aslam Iqbal, an MPA from Lahore, could be elected as the chief minister for an interim period of two or three months. 

A section of opinion in the PTI is in favor of Shah Mahmood Qureshi to become a permanent chief minister to strengthen party’s hold in a province which decides who forms the federal government after every election. Qureshi himself is not inclined to become the foreign minister for the second time as per party sources.

Notwithstanding his private stance taken in the internal party meetings, Shah Mehmood on Tuesday told the media that he was playing as a Vice-Captain and would stand where his Captain (Imran Khan) would ask him to.

A seasoned politician from Multan, Shah Mehmood is well-versed in the political dynamics of Punjab. His father, Makhdoom Sajjad Hussain Qureshi remained Punjab Governor during early days of General Ziaul Haq. Shah Mehmood worked as provincial minister for Planning and Development in the provincial cabinet of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from 1988 to 1990 and as finance minister from 1990 to 1993 in the cabinet of Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo. He then joined the PPP the same year and held several ministerial positions afterwards till 2011 when he resigned as foreign minister on the issue of Memogate. He then joined the PTI the same year.

Aleem Khan is also a serious contender for the coveted slot, but he is facing NAB investigation in connection with his alleged offshore companies in UK and UAE. The National Accountability Bureau on Tuesday summoned Mr Aleem to appear before the NAB authorities on August 8, days before convening of the first Punjab Assembly session to elect the new speaker, deputy speaker and the chief minister.

It is because of this reason that PTI chief Imran Khan seems reluctant to nominate Aleem Khan as the party candidate for the office of chief minister.

Another name being tipped as the chief minister is that of Dr Yasmin Rashid who lost a general seat against PML-N’s Waheed Alam on July 25 while contesting from NA-125. But she is being commended for securing over one hundred thousand votes from a constituency considered as PML-N’s stronghold in Lahore. Previously, she also put up a stiff fight in a by-election against Begum Kasloom Nawaz though she lost that election too. But insiders believe she could at best be offered Assembly’s Speakership or the ministry of health. 

The name of ex-Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rashid is also circulating in the media as possible nominee for this office. But many in the party doubt his loyalty to the party. In their opinion, Mr Rashid is not likely to fall in Khan’s choice for the highest office in question.

PTI’s central Secretary Information Fawad Ch is also in the race but apparently he is backing the candidature of Aleem Khan as he told reporters the other day.

 

MUBASHIR HASSAN