Pakistan poll panel bars Shehbaz from campaigning for himself

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The political turmoil in Pakistan refuses to subside, with new twists and turns emerging every day. In a jolt to Prime Minister-designate Shehbaz Sharif, the poll panel has barred him from campaigning for the upcoming bypolls for the Lahore National Assembly-120 seat, vacated by his elder brother Nawaz Sharif last week. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) code of conduct that came into effect immediately after notification for the election, constitutional dignitaries, including the President, the Prime Minister, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Senate as well as Chief Ministers cannot visit the area of any constituency that is going to polls. This code of conduct bars Shehbaz Sharif, who is the Chief Minister of Punjab, from taking part in his own prime ministerial poll campaign as PML-N candidate. The National Assembly-120 seat fell vacant after the Supreme Court unseated Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister in the Panama Papers case.  In a related development, the PML-N consultative meetings concluded without the party agreeing on the names of new cabinet members or a candidate to contest the Lahore by-poll, due in September. There were also reports that the party was re-evaluating its strategy in Punjab, amid fears that it could lose its grip on the province, with Shehbaz in Islamabad. Punjab is the party's electoral base. The PML-N leaders in Punjab have admitted to their apprehensions over Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif's elevation as Prime Minister.  "Some party leaders think Punjab is very important for the party and Shehbaz Sharif should continue serving here, while others want to see him as Prime Minister," Punjab government spokesperson Malik Ahmad said. A senior official of the ECP said a clear picture would emerge after the submission of nomination papers by Shehbaz Sharif for the by-election.  "This is a unique situation because if the Chief Minister of Punjab files nomination papers, he will not be campaigning for somebody else but for himself and this right can in no way be taken away from him." Shehbaz, incumbent Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Nawaz held a three-hour-long meeting, but no major decisions were taken. When asked if the party had decided on a candidate for the upcoming by-election, interim Prime Minister Abbasi said that the issue came up for discussion, but added that there was still a lot of time for consultation on the matter. The ECP has announced that nomination papers for the NA-120 by-poll to be held on September 17 must be filed by August 12. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party has decided on Yasmin Rashid as its candidate for the electoral contest fort NA-120 seat.