LAHORE - The ruling PML-N eyes grabbing maximum number of seats in the March 3 Senate elections with the main focus on Punjab where it aspires to get all its 11 candidates elected unopposed by virtue of its strength of over 300 MPAs in the house of 371.

The party sources say, in the second phase of election preparations, the leadership has constituted committees in all the provinces for the purpose of giving input on profile and capability of applicants as well as their political background. The committees will also remain active after the names of the candidates are finalised and the party tickets awarded. They say in the Punjab a special committee, comprising senior members, has been set up to ensure unopposed election of the party candidates in the absence of PTI from the Punjab Assembly. Moreover, cabinet members have also been whipped up to ensure capturing all 11 seats of Punjab (seven general and each two of women and technocrats) and guide the party leadership on the moves from the rival parties.

Given the resignation of 26 PTI MPAs from the Punjab Assembly, PPP, having seven members, PML-Q 9 and six others on the opposition benches are not in a position to field a consensus candidate to capture a senate seat in the Punjab. As such the PML-N prefers to keep PTI at bay for the Senate polls in the Punjab while others, particularly Q-League, are reportedly making hectic efforts to get the PTI back to the house as it wants to retain the only seat falling vacant on the retirement of Ch Shujaat.

Sources say, after preliminary scrutiny of applications and assessment of particulars of the candidates through a committee, PML-N will place the names before the 14-member parliamentary board, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The board is scheduled to interview applicants on February 4 for the Punjab seats and on February 5 for the rest of the provinces.

In Punjab, the party is going to get the dividend of another four seats in addition to retrieving the seven seats on which its senators retired on completing the six-year stay.

The party sources say Federal Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Mushahidullah Khan, Raja Zafar-ul-Haq and Ch Jaffar Iqbal will certainly repeat contest for the Senate seats while a blend of old and new faces is likely to be fielded for the rest seven seats. For the newcomers preference of the party, as the sources say, is relatively young persons who are well-versed with national and international affairs and have served the party with input on various issues.

They say the party leadership, after wining the last elections, had decided to see some members in the Senate.

The party is somewhat comfortable in Balochistan and KP where its own strength is 19 and 16, respectively, while its allies – JUI-F, National Party and PkMAP – have to provide it with a considerable strength in the upper house.

PTI with 56 seats in the 124-member house and having the support of JI is in the picture to win at least six out of 12 seats. In Balochistan, N-League and its partners are sure to hold the sway. For KP, the party has set up a committee, headed by Governor Mehtab Khan, to work out understanding on seats and tickets with other partners while in Balochistan the committee has been set up with Sardar Sanaullah Zehri in the chair for the same purpose.

After giving top slots of local government in Quetta and other districts to the allied parties in Balochistan, the PML-N is expected to get the biggest chunk of candidates for the Senate seats in that province. As regards KP, the PML-N has tasked the committee to contact every party, particularly Qaumi Wattan Party of Sherpeo, to strike understanding or an electoral alliance.

In Sindh, the PML-N, with only six members, is not in a position to make any difference, however, it would certainly lend support to its ally, PML-F which has 10 MPAs in the Sindh Assembly so that it could try luck with the support of other nationalist parties in the face of tough rivals like PPP and MQM.

Reportedly, a new group of Muslim Leagues is being formed in PML. What impact it would leave on the Senate elections would tell the time.

Our Staff Reporter adds from Islamabad:  Parliamentary Board of the ruling PML-N would be meeting here today (Tuesday) to examine the applications received for the upcoming Senate elections against the seats falling vacant in all the four provinces and the federal capital.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had constituted a 14-member board to interview the candidates for the Senate elections due on March 3.

According to the party sources, some 141 applications were received from all over the country and the board would examine these applications and interview the candidates to pick the suitable persons against the seats to be vacated by the provinces and the federal capital.

Although the prime minister is the chairman of the board, he would not attend the meeting owing to his pressing engagements and the party chairman, Raja Zafarul Haq who himself is a candidate for ticket from the Punjab, will chair the meeting.

Sources further revealed the convener of the board, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, would be co-chairing the meeting with Raja Zafarul Haq to interview the candidates.

The board would prepare its recommendations while a final decision on the party tickets would be made at another meeting of the board with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair.

The 14-member parliamentary board has representation from all the four provinces and will interview the candidates for the Senate elections.