Two ministers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – federal minister Ayaz Sadiq and Punjab minister Khawaja Salman Rafique – resigned from their offices for “personal reasons”.

Minister for Economic Affairs Ayaz Sadiq on Saturday confirmed the news, adding that the decision was taken due to “personal reasons.”

“Due to my personal reasons, I am unable to continue holding the office,” he wrote in the resignation sent to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“I would continue to work for the country and the party with the best of my abilities,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Punjab Health Minister Salman also resigned from his position due to “personal reasons”.

Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz has accepted his resignation.

On the other hand, Salman said that being the provincial minister he wasn’t able to participate in the by-election campaign; however, now he plans to run the campaign with full enthusiasm as the party aims to win all 20 seats.

Confirming the news, Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the two ministers have resigned because elections are being held in their constituencies; however, they will be reappointed in their positions after the elections.

According to Dawn, the departure of a minister each from the federal and Punjab cabinets makes it clear that the PML-N cannot afford any embarrassment in the upcoming by-polls in Punjab and wants to retain its hold over its citadel of Lahore, for which it has deployed its trusted lieutenants.

Although Ayaz Sadiq’s resignation as the economic affairs minister may not be significant in the larger scheme of things, it does raise a question that the PML-N could sacrifice the head of such a vital ministry at a time when the economy is on a downward spiral, but not lose Lahore at any cost, especially when former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan is making whirlwind tours to every constituency to give a tough time to the ruling alliance in Punjab.

ALL IS WELL?: The resignations of Sadiq and Rafique — said to be part of the PML-N’s ‘Nawaz group’ — also cast doubt over whether all was well within the nine-party coalition government, as well as foreboding differences of opinion between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his elder brother Nawaz, who has been living in the UK since Nov 2019 ‘on medical grounds’.

The PML-N was quick to issue the ‘real reason’ behind the two resignations to quash any rumours. “Ayaz Sadiq and Salman Rafique have resigned because of the by-elections in their constituencies. They have to take part in the election campaign (of PML-N-backed candidates). They resigned because they did not want to violate the election commission’s code of conduct,” Punjab Home Minister Attaullah Tarar said in a statement.

A PML-N insider said that resignations of the two ‘Nawaz group’ ministers were being seen in two contexts within the party – their effectiveness in the ongoing by-poll campaign in PP-158 (and why two ministers had to resign to canvas in just one constituency) or something cooking between the Nawaz and Shehbaz groups.

“The by-elections are being held on 20 Punjab Assembly seats on July 17. Sadiq and Rafique have resigned to campaign in only one constituency – PP-158 Lahore – that falls in the National Assembly seat that the former speaker won in 2018. Salman Rafique had won in PP-157 where the poll isn’t even being held. How effective will these two ‘political heavyweights’ be for the remaining constituencies is to be seen,” he said.

The insider said since PTI dissident Aleem Khan, who had won in PP-158 in 2018 and was de-seated over defection in the chief minister’s election in April, was not ‘seriously’ canvassing for the PML-N candidate, Mr Sadiq was sent for his aid. But what was the utility of Salman Rafiq since he was elected from another constituency? he questioned.

The PML-N’s move to forego two ministers to ensure by-poll victory also raises a question whether party vice president Maryam Nawaz wasn’t effective enough in spearheading the election campaign so far. She has already held a public rally in PP-158, which was a relatively better show than the other two constituencies she visited in Lahore to canvas for PTI dissidents now contesting the by-polls with the backing of the PML-N.

On the other hand, there are reports PM Shehbaz is not obliging his elder brother Nawaz in certain departments. “Nawaz wants Ishaq Dar back in Pakistan to manage the finance ministry, but the Shehbaz group of the party insists on sticking to Miftah Ismail. Similarly, the former premier has directed Shehbaz to make certain appointments on important positions, including the Pakistan Cricket Board, and also wants to see some of his favourites as Punjab ministers. But both Shehbaz and his son Hamza have so far tactfully delayed acting on these instructions,” another party leader said.

He said since Shehbaz was heeding more to the suggestions of the powers that be, these resignations could be a ‘message’ from Nawaz for the powerful quarters.

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