Nawaz Sharif
The ruling PML-N hope Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan will be a “booster shot” for the party ahead of general elections in late 2023. Image Credit: AP file

Islamabad: Federal Minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Javed Latif has confirmed that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif would return to Pakistan in September, ending his three-year self-imposed exile in London.

The announcement came days after the former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan alleged that ‘several conspiracies’ were being hatched to disqualify him in the Toshakhana and prohibited funding cases and pave the way for Nawaz’s return.

Khan was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April after which a coalition government led by PML-N took office.

Addressing the press conference, Javed Latif said that “Nawaz Sharif is coming back to Pakistan in September to lead the nation. He will be accorded a historic welcome.” He added that “Nawaz was disqualified by the former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar under the doctrine of necessity. Now, he should be given a level-playing field” in Pakistani politics. “The nation has announced its decision that Nawaz Sharif should come back,” Latif said.

He also said that the PML-N would not allow the party chief to go back to jail upon his return.

The ruling PML-N hope Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan will be a “booster shot” for the party ahead of general elections in late 2023. The PML-N government is considering options and relevant legislation to facilitate the return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan and lead the party’s election campaign. PML-N leader and interior minister Rana Sanaullah earlier 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.

The former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif was permanently disqualified from contesting elections or holding public office following a Supreme Court ruling in 2018. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $25 million on corruption charges. Sharif denies all the charges saying those were politically motivated. In October 2019, he was granted an eight-week bail on medical grounds and flown in an air ambulance to London. Nawaz Sharif was issued a fresh passport in April this year by the government, led by his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif.

Political experts and local media indicated that Nawaz Sharif is likely to return and galvanize the party’s voters after PML-N faced a humiliating defeat in the Punjab by-polls in which Imran Khan’s PTI swept the elections. The defeat in a province that has traditionally been a stronghold of the ruling PML-N party forced the party to rethink its strategy. There is a growing concern within the PML-N party that Nawaz Sharif should lead the election campaign as they believe that the second-tier leadership such as his daughter Maryam Nawaz and his brother Shehbaz Sharif do not stand a chance in elections against a charismatic leader like Imran Khan, analysts say.

Former prime minister Imran Khan’s party 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.