LAHORE - After finalisation of names for permanent and interim prime ministers of the PML-N government, the next prime business of the party is to find out a candidate for the Punjab chief minister’s slot for which formal deliberations will start on Sunday (today) or tomorrow under the chairmanship of former premier Nawaz Sharif.

The Punjab, the largest province of the country, holds much importance for the PML-N politics, so the party leadership intends to pick up a person for the chief minister’s office after looking into all aspects, including political, developmental work in the province, party/public acceptance and the upcoming general elections.

Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been selected for permanent premiership while Shahid Khaaqan Abbasi will hold this office for 45 days during which Shehbaz Sharif will be elected to the National Assembly. The question is who will replace Shehbaz Sharif in Punjab. According to the party sources, three names are being considered for this slot. Among them are MNA Hamza Shehbaz, Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and PML-N Punjab Secretary Raja Ashfaq Sarwar. Apart from them, some other names are also being discussed at the party level.

The party leadership would like to select the one at the earliest as need to appoint a new Punjab CM can arise anytime after filing of the nomination papers for NA-120 Lahore contest by Shehbaz Sharif. The constitution does not bar Shehbaz Sharif from competing for an NA seat while retaining the slot of an MPA. In view of the legal experts, going for an NA contest simultaneously retaining the CM slot may be challenged by his rival candidates before the Election Commission or a court on the ground of providing them with level-playing field and transparency in the contest.

Mindful of all aspects, the party leadership is expected to come up with next Punjab chief minister’s name in a couple of days.

In the selection of a name for the new CM, the paramount interest of the PML-N is to preserve and promote the political value of this province for the party. Shehbaz Sharif since 2008 when he took over as Punjab chief minister added much to the political value of the province for the party through development projects, particularly, and schemes for the people of rural areas. It is admitted even by his critics that Shehbaz Sharif’s efforts and his progressive vision brought huge election victory for the party in May 2013 elections. Therefore, the party would like to see the person in his place in Punjab who would be capable enough to keep that tempo of development, speed and quality of the projects, particularly on energy side.

Therefore, the three names are in limelight at this stage in the party although each of them has his own merits and demerits.

Hamza Shehbaz Sharif is the son of Shehbaz Sharif. In case his name is finalised as the next Punjab CM, he will also have to contest for the PA seat. Undoubtedly, Hamza has deep insight into the working of his father and the areas on which he focused for development in Punjab. Hamza Shehbaz knows politics in the province and commands respect among the party members and has also played a vital role in the victory in by-elections and the last local government polls. Nevertheless, the negative aspect for his CM office is promoting dynasty politics by the Sharifs and this feeling may be punctuated when the father will be ruling the centre and the son the largest province. The party sources say that Hamza Shehbaz can be of a big help in Punjab while sitting in the background.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah is highly trusted and close friend of Shehbaz Sharif. His advice is highly valued by the CM in maintaining law and order and anti-terror drive in Punjab. Rana Sana’s political constituency is Faisalabad while his influence and working is spread over the whole province.

Pakistan Awami Tehreek names Rana Sana among the perpetrators of the Model Town killings on June 17, 2014, and claims that Justice Baqir Najfi of the Lahore High Court in his probe report has linked him to the carnage. PAT has, therefore, been long insisting on making that report public. Rana Sanaullah had quit the minister’s office over the Model Town incident for about one year till his exoneration by the government-formed JIT. Sana’s group is a dead political rival of the group led by Ch Sher Ali, a close relative of the Sharifs in Faisalabad, so his across-the-board acceptability in the province as CM may remain a question, the sources add.

Labour Minister Raja Ashfaq Sarwar has been an old friend of Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan since the time they lived in People’s House. Ashfaq Sarwar has proven his loyalty to the Sharifs and the party more than once, particularly during the period the Sharif’s ‘exile’ during the Musharraf era. Sarwar was elected an MPA from Murree which is also the NA constituency of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and this fact may not go in his favour as two top office holders from the same constituency may not go in good taste at public and party level.

The names of Excise Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman and Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan are being taken. Mujtaba Shuja, a soft-spoken, submissive and tenderhearted, has allegiance with Sharifs and the party. His father Mian Shujaur Rahman was the lord mayor of Lahore during the era of General Ziaul Haq. This was the time when Nawaz Sharif also started his political career. Rana Muhammad Iqbal has also long and deep ties with the Sharifs since the time his father Rana Phool Muhammad was a minister in the PML-N cabinet.

These names are on the table, but none has been finalised, say the sources while not ruling out the possibility of a dark horse. According to former Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, the best one will be appointed as the Punjab CM.