LAHORE - The PML-N is doing everything in its power to form its government in Punjab as it will not only protect its political future but also help complete the mega projects initiated under the stewardship of Shehbaz Sharif in the last tenure.

Reports say the former ruling party has named Hamza Shehbaz Sharif as its chief minister candidate.

The PML-N has emerged has the largest party by securing 129 general seats. But it is being closely followed by the PTI, which has secured 123 seats and also aspires for making government in Punjab. The PTI’s deficiency is covered by its ally PML-Q which has pocketed seven seats. Then there is PPP, which has won six seats and it remains anybody’s guess on whose side it will tilt. This makes the 28 winning independents to be the real maker or breaker of a government. Both PML-N and PTI are therefore trying their best to lure maximum number of independents to their side to get to the magic number of 147.

Punjab is most populous and politically and economically most potent province. A party which fails to form government at Centre but holds Punjab has a fair chance of getting the Centre too in next elections.

The first government of the PPP under Benezir Bhutto after 1988 is a case in point when the PML-N ruling the Punjab, got a good foothold to rule the centre in the next term.

The PML-N claims the right to rule in Punjab for being the single largest party and cites the example it had set after 2013 election when it did become a stumbling block PTI’s way and let it form government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, though it could have managed its own coalition government there.

At that time, the PML-N had a clear majority at the Centre and a large majority in Punjab and this fact made it feel secure and satisfied. Therefore, the Nawaz League leadership thought it better to respect the PTI mandate in KP. But the PML-N today is in a totally different situation. Now it is an underdog at the national level and has negligible presence outside Punjab.

To remain in a commanding position in Punjab is necessary for the party to keep it politically afloat. The completion of its pending development projects in Punjab, would help it convince many voters back to its fold in the next elections.

Moreover, many of PML-N leaders, especially the central leadership, are facing accountability cases and corruption investigations. The need to keep hold on Punjab, at least, is therefore much more pressing for the PML-N than ever before.

The informal head of the party, Nawaz Sharif, and his politically ambitious daughter Maryam Nawaz are already behind bars. His younger brother and party president Shehbaz Sharif – the long-time Punjab chief minister – could soon be in serious trouble as a result of the NAB probe into affairs of the 56 public sector companies. These investigations are expected to enfold a number of former Punjab ministers too.

Both PML-N and the PTI are aspiring to form government in Punjab and they have unleashed efforts to woo maximum number of independents.

PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Shehbaz, and Rana Sanaullah are reaching out to the independents and appeasing them after most of them were previously denied the party tickets which obliged them to contest without the party support.

However, given the new situation the independents are weighing their own advantages and disadvantages before taking any final decision. Sources in the PML-N say that the party can also opt for forming the government in the Centre with the help of PPP, MMA, and other parties to upset the applecart of the PTI, in case Punjab is not given to it. The PML-N has announced sitting on the opposition benches at the Centre and this position will be accepted if the PTI would respect its mandate in Punjab, the sources added.

Observers say the party also faces the fears of being politically marginalised if obliged to sit on the opposition benches both at Centre and in Punjab. The question that why rule in Punjab again is vital to the PML-N has other dimensions too. The recent elections have awakened the party to the need of deepening roots in other provinces along with Punjab. Shehbaz Sharif during the campaign time made efforts to that end but that was too late.

The PML-N performed well in Punjab but it failed to sell Punjab performance to other provinces. If got power again, the PML-N can showcase its ‘good’ governance in Punjab to other provinces keeping in mind the new dynamics of the national politics, and attract the masses all over the country instead of a single province.

Excepting Sindh, the PPP had lost political ground in other provinces when it lost election in 1997 and again in 2013 election after it had ruled the centre on both occasions.

The PPP is still struggling hard to come out of that recession. If the PML-N sits on the opposition benches this time, it may also face that political downslide but that is surely not that of PPP’s quantum as the PML-N is still the largest Party in Punjab which the PPP has never been after Bhuttos.

However, the party, as reports say, still has vulnerable elements in the folds who can create the same situation which Ata Maneka led PML-Q members did in the Punjab Assembly after 2008 election to prop the Shehbaz Sharif government against PPP onsets.

Top of all, the PML-N will get the chance to complete the mega projects like Lahore Orange Line Train, power plants and water and other infrastructural and in the development sectors in Punjab. A huge amount has been spent on these projects and the Party is well aware of the nitty-gritty of its completion.

However the party has not lost the hope of forming government in Punjab. And if failed, it will not only prove a robust opposition with Shehbaz Sharif leading in the National Assembly and Khwaja Rafiq, lohey ka channa fame, in the Punjab.

Punjab party position as per ECP

295/297 — postponed 2