The brother of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not contest a parliamentary by-election for the vacant seat, party sources said on Tuesday report Reuters, effectively scuttling previous plans for him to take over as prime minister in September.
Sharif, 68, was disqualified by the Supreme Court last month but kept his grip on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and outlined plans for Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to act as interim prime minister until his brother, Shahbaz, becomes eligible to take over by winning the by-election.
But Sharif and PML-N leadership have decided that Shahbaz should continue in his role as chief minister of the politically vital Punjab province that accounts for more than half of Pakistan’s 190 million people.
“Shahbaz will definitely not contest for NA 120,” said one of Shahbaz’s aides in Lahore, referring to the National Assembly seat left vacant by Nawaz.
A senior PML-N figure in Lahore confirmed that the chief minister would not be contesting the seat, a move likely to leave Abbasi in charge until the next general elections, likely in mid-2018.
PML-N officials say the main reason why Shahbaz may not take over is linked to the general elections and the party’s fears that its grip on the vital Punjab province will weaken if he steps down as chief minister.
The way Pakistan’s political system is set up means any party that sweeps Punjab will most likely go on to form a government after the 2018 poll.
Nawaz resigned last month after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not declaring his accrued salaries and benefits from an offshore company owned by his son – Sharif says he never intended to draw any salary from his son’s firm operating in UAE of which he was the Chairman until 2014.
The veteran leader has criticized the court’s decision and on Wednesday plans to begin a two-day drive to Lahore via all the major towns along the way, a move that his supporters say will show how popular he remains with voters.
His supporters also argue that it is not clear if the Supreme Court disqualification means he is barred from contesting the next election.
On Tuesday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued a notice to the PML-N for the appointment of a new party leader.
The ECP in the notice said that under the Political Parties Order 2002, a disqualified lawmaker cannot hold any office in a political party.
The notification also referred to the Supreme Court order on the Panama Papers case, in which Nawaz Sharif was formally asked to step down as prime minister.
The ECP also observed that Article 15 of the PML-N’s own party constitution says that if the seat of party president is vacant, it is to be filled within one week’s time
The election body asked the PML-N to elect a new party leader and then inform the ECP.
Shortly after the ECP’s notification was issued, DawnNews reported that the PML-N was holding a high-level meeting of senior party members, including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar.
The notice comes a day before Nawaz Sharif is set to travel from Islamabad to his hometown Lahore in what is set to be a ‘historic’ two-day rally undertaken by the PML-N and ousted prime minister to garner much-needed political mileage in the face of the challenges its government is facing.