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ISLAMABAD: The PML-N has worked out a face-saving arrangement by maintaining Maryam Nawaz-Shahid Khaqan Abbasi stance with respect to the appointment of Yousaf Raza Gilani as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in spite of a reported agreement within the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that the position would go to a PML-N candidate while Shehbaz Sharif would take the lead in the assembly to unite the opposition on one platform.

In a rare show of family solidarity, Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz came together to attend the eight party leaders meeting convened under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Saturday.

Sources in PML-N told Business Recorder that PML-N’s opposition to Gilani as the opposition leader in the Senate will remain ‘symbolic’ as the party has no plans to proactively work towards de-seating him. The actual battle with the Khan administration will now be fought in the assemblies, a stance close to the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) position, and not on the streets - the position taken by the PDM during Shehbaz Sharif’s incarceration.

Asked whether this arrangement has the approval of the party supremo Nawaz Sharif, a senior PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz) leader said that Shehbaz always consults his elder brother before finalizing any strategy. And recent statements by Shehbaz Sharif show that Nawaz is now supporting Shehbaz’s position, including his stance on resignations.

The younger Sharif reportedly gave an ultimatum to Nawaz Sharif: “Our objective is to win the 2023 elections but with the harsh anti-establishment narrative we are not likely to be given a level-playing field in 2023. We may erode our base in Punjab if we are out of government for 10 years. If my hands are not strengthened at this point I will bid farewell to politics.”

Sources close to the Sharifs told Business Recorder that if Shehbaz Sharif withdraws from constituency politics then at least 20 to 30 seats that the party wins in north Punjab may be lost which would make the possibility of a PML-N victory dicey.

The real issue is Punjab. PML-N believes the Buzdar government has neither the numbers nor performance on its side and is the underbelly of the Khan administration. PML-N has the numbers to challenge the Buzdar government and Shehbaz Sharif supports his son Hamza as chief minister. But Maryam is strongly opposed to a vote of no-confidence against Buzdar as she argues that his poor performance helped the PML-N win all the bye-election seats in recent months; however sources close to her reveal that she is opposed to Hamza as CM as it would shift the balance of power within the party to “the Shehbaz group”, this newspaper has learnt on reliable authority.

Talking to Business Recorder, President PML-N Punjab Rana Sanaullah, who is regarded as the most trusted aide of Shehbaz, said that all options, including pushing for an in-house change in Punjab have been kept open by PML-N.

“So far, we have not finalized any definite strategy. The PML-N alone cannot take decision on in-house change in Punjab and any decision including this option needs to be discussed at PDM’s forum. We believe when the time is right time then we will discuss it,” he added.

Senior PPP leader and former chairman Senate Nayyar Hussain Bukhari said PPP is willing to develop a cordial relationship with PML-N under Shehbaz’s leadership. “Shehbaz Sharif is the President of the party and we have deep respect for him. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has already made it clear that Shehbaz is the party President and PPP would consider his approach as PML-N’s official policy,” he said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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