WPK Nawaz sharif-1659967956496
Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz plans to pave the way for the return of Nawaz Sharif to lead the party in the next elections. Image Credit: AP file

Islamabad: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is considering options and relevant legislation to facilitate the return of its supreme leader Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. Nawaz is currently in London on medical grounds.

The ruling PML-N leaders have asked the former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif to return to the country and lead the party’s election campaign, according to Sharif’s spokesperson, Mohammad Zubair.

PML-N leader and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told local media this week that the government is considering amending the legislation, which would help repeal the lifetime ban imposed on Sharif by a Supreme Court judgment in the Panama Papers case against him. Nawaz Sharif has been permanently disqualified from contesting elections or holding public office following a Supreme Court ruling in 2018.

He also said that the party had requested Sharif to return to Pakistan to lead its election campaign. “He is likely to return to Pakistan ahead of the next elections whenever they take place to spearhead the PML-N’s campaign,” Sanaullah said in an interview with Geo News.

Former prime minister Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), has demanded early elections. However, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected the demand, saying the general elections will be held next year as per schedule.

The Supreme Court barred Nawaz Sharif in 2017 from holding public office, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges. In October 2019, he was granted an eight-week bail on medical grounds and flown in an air ambulance to London for medical treatment. He is still in London. Nawaz Sharif’s passport expired in February 2021. However, he was issued a fresh passport in April this year by the government, led by his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif.

Punjab loss forced a strategy change

Political experts and local media suggested that Nawaz Sharif is likely to return and lead the election campaign after his party’s humiliating defeat in the Punjab bypolls in which Imran Khan’s PTI swept the elections. The bypoll defeat “has forced the party to rethink its strategy and narrative for reviving its political fortunes, and a major leadership reshuffle is expected in the coming days,” according to Dawn newspaper.

PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has held extensive consultations with senior party leaders in the past days to assess the factors that led to the election loss in a province that has traditionally been a stronghold of the ruling PML-N party.

Khan emerged as a “popular leader with grassroots support” in the country’s most populous and bellwether Punjab province in a severe blow to the coalition government. Political analysts say there is a growing concern within the PML-N party that Nawaz Sharif should return as they believe that the second-tier leadership of his daughter Maryam Nawaz and his brother Shehbaz Sharif do not stand a chance in elections against a charismatic leader like Imran Khan.