LAHORE - A number of PML-N senior leaders want Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to continue serving in the Punjab, as they think it’s only he who can maintain party’s strong grip there in the present tumultuous times.

The parliamentary party of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz last week had approved Shehbaz as next permanent prime minister, after the passing of 45 days interim period of Shahid Haqqan Abbasi.

But Punjab is extremely important to the party for two obvious reasons: First, it is the power bastion of PML-N; Second, the one who wins Punjab wears the crown at Centre – since the most-populous province has more seats than all the seats of all the other provinces and federal areas combined.

Party sources say if the decision on Shehbaz’ premiership is reversed, Begum Kalsum Nawaz could be fielded against PTI’s Dr Yasmin Rashid at NA-120 (Lahore) seat, which fell vacant due to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification.

Sources say Begum Kalsum commands wide acceptance in the party and she could be elevated to the Premiership after winning the election. However, they said any decision about her contesting the election was subject to her good health.

As for the importance of Punjab, sources say it is the political citadel of the PML-N. The victory at most seats of this province enabled the party to form its government both at provincial and federal level.

They say Shehbaz Sharif has served the province over the last four years in a big way and party does not want to lose its dividend in the election. From the electoral perspective, that dividend is more valuable to the party than the future eight months of government at Centre, leading up to the general elections.

For among the names so far floated for to replace Shehbaz as CM, none is such as could match his political acumen and his skills, energy, passion and vision for development and progress of the province. The largest chunk of the PML-N legislators in the centre and the province is from Punjab. And most of them are unlikely to mentally reconcile with any other than Shehbaz as the chief minister, they add.

Under his stewardship, a number of energy, water, transport, roads, and public welfare projects are fast nearing completion.

Shehbaz has also been admired by the people of other provinces for student support initiatives, including unprecedented scholarships and laptop scheme, and accepting a cut in NFC share in favour of Balochistan. All this is likely to cultivate a popular favour in these provinces for the PML-N in next election, the party sources said.

Sources further say that Shehbaz Sharif is very likely to be made President of the PML-N anyway, while Nawaz Sharif would be declared Rehbar of the party – an arrangement which would satisfy the party works, fulfil the Election Commission requirements and shut the mouth of party rivals.

According to Punjab Government Spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, the party decision about Shehbaz’ becoming the PM was intact so far. He said any other decision on this score however rests with Nawaz Sharif. Whatever decision is taken, it will essentially be in the best interest of the party, he added.

The nomination papers for the NA-120 will be delivered to the aspirant candidates on August 7. The picture of Shehbaz Sharif election will be clear by that date, the sources said.

PML-N provincial chapter however has started planning for the campaign of Shehbaz Sharif for the by-election. PML-N Punjab Vice President Rana Akhtar Saeed, former MPA Dr Zamurad Yasmin and other party office holders and worker will meet at Postmaster General office near Nasser Bagh on Friday (today) to finalise the campaign programme.