ISLAMABAD - Internal rifts and grouping and unavailability of a suitable candidate for the slot of the Punjab chief minister have compelled prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan to keep a mysterious silence on the issue while allowing others to continue with a guessing game.

While the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has summoned an important meeting of its Punjab parliamentary party on Wednesday (today), chances are slim that Khan will nominate anyone as the next chief minister of the country’s thickly-populated province

PTI Central Media Department head Iftikhar Durrani told The Nation that there were no chances that the parliamentary party would nominate a candidate for the next Punjab chief minister.

The PTI emerged as the second largest party followed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Punjab as a result of the July 25 elections. The party is now in a comfortable position to form the next provincial government with the help of around two dozen independent members elected to the Punjab Assembly and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), one of the coalition partners of the PTI.

Since his party’s victory, Khan has held marathon meetings in Bani Gala to decide the name of next Punjab chief minister but the issue still remains undecided. The same is the case with regard to nominating a candidate for the chief minister slot in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI has emerged as the single largest party in terms of winning seats in the general election.

Background interviews with some senior PTI leaders indicate that two issues were haunting the party chief on the matter — one, the surfacing of two major groups within the party, both wanting to get the Punjab chief minister slot, and the second, the unavailability of a suitable candidate having some clean past.

Since the PTI has emerged as the second largest party in Punjab in general polls, PTI senior leader Jahangir Khan Tareen had been very instrumental in bringing independent-members elect into the party folds. He had taken a long-drawn-out tour of the country via his private jet and succeeded in bringing several independents to Bani Gala to get them joined the PTI. Many within the PTI believe that keeping in view the efforts of the Tareen group, the Punjab chief minister slot could be allocated to this camp. Both PTI two leaders, Aleem Khan and Fawad Chaudhry, who are said to be very close to Tareen, are contenders for the chief minister’s slot.

According to PTI sources, Aleem Khan at one time had emerged as the strongest contender for the slot but bad luck befell him after the National Accountability Bureau summoned him for a personal hearing for allegedly owning assets beyond known sources of income. Aleem Khan’s name had also appeared in the Panama Papers — another reason for his discredit within the party for the Punjab chief minister’s slot.

There is a strong group within PTI led by PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi which is opposing any nomination for the slot belonging to the Tareen camp. Qureshi himself is the strong contender for the chief minister slot though he lost the provincial assembly seat. He has tried to convince his party that a chief minister for a short period of time should be brought to give him time to contest the by-election. And later, he should be installed as the Punjab chief minister.

Answering a question, whether he would contest the by-election on a Punjab Assembly seat, Qureshi while talking to reporters on Monday said that his party chief would take the final decision — an indication that he was still in the race for the chief minister’s slot. On the other hand, Tareen some days back told reporters that his party would not bring two chief ministers.

A number of PTI leaders view that Qureshi and Aleem Khan have emerged as the two strong contenders for the Punjab CM clot but Imarn Khan has kept a mysteries silence on the issue. They are of the view that Khan was observing all key developments within the party and he might give a surprise by announcing a dark horse for the key slot.

The others, who have emerged as the strong contenders for the CM slot, include Dr Yasmeen Rashid, Mian Aslam Iqbal, Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed and Yasir Hamayun. The PTI chief rejected the name of Mahmoodur Rasheed at the start. A week earlier, Mian Aslam Iqbal held a one-on-one meeting with the PTI chief in Bani Gala giving credence to speculations that perhaps he was being picked for the coveted slot. According to a senior PTI leader, Dr Yasmeen Rashid and Mian Aslam Iqbal would only get the slots of ministers and perhaps health ministry would go to Dr Rashid.

A senior PTI leader said that Khan perhaps was facing the issue of selection due to the unavailability of suitable candidates. “If Shah Mahmood Qureshi had won the election on a Punjab Assembly seat, he would have been the ultimate candidate for the slot,” he said.  He said that similarly, Jahangir Tareen would have been one of the best candidates for the slot if the Supreme Court had not disqualified him for life.

Fawad Chaudhry told The Nation that Khan had stressed that he himself would decide the name for the next Punjab chief minister. “Khan will announce the name when the process to elect the next CM draws near,” he said.