04/15/2015 11:19 EDT | Updated 06/25/2015 03:59 EDT

Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari will try to win seat in legislature

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari has ended months of speculation by announcing she plans to run for a legislature seat in the Fort Rouge constituency in Winnipeg.

Bokhari, a lawyer, was chosen Liberal leader in 2013 but has never held public office. She has had to watch legislature proceedings from the public gallery.

She had been under pressure from some party members to run in recent rural byelections to gain a seat, but is holding off until the provincial election set for next April. She says the delay has allowed her and her advisers to focus on rebuilding the battered party's finances and organization.

"When we walked in, the goal was to get the organization structure in place, which we've done," Bokhari said Wednesday.

"The things that I wanted to be ready, going into the election, are now ready."

Fort Rouge has been held by the NDP since 1999, but voted Liberal for much of the 1970s and '80s. It is adjacent to the only seat the Liberals currently have — River Heights, which is held by former leader Jon Gerrard.

"There's a very strong Liberal history in Fort Rouge. To be frank, it's my home away from home," said Bokhari, who lives further south in the city's Fort Richmond area.

Bokhari's decision comes in advance of this weekend's Liberal annual general meeting, where she is expected to face questions about the party's election readiness.

The Manitoba Liberals are trying to bounce back from two decades in the political wilderness and a disastrous 2011 election in which they captured only 7.5 per cent of the vote. The result was below the 10 per cent required for a partial rebate of campaign expenses, and the party took a year to pay off its election debts.

The Liberals are now in the black and finished 2014 with a surplus of $36,582, according to financial statements filed recently with Elections Manitoba.

The party won't have as much campaign money as the NDP or Tories, but aims to be competitive.

"We're not going to be able to raise $3 million in the next year to ... catch up to where the NDP and the Conservatives are, but we know where our strengths are and we'll run a grassroots campaign," said Liberal executive director Jeff Kovalik-Plouffe.

"We have started to do some targeted ads already through social media sites and ... we are also relying heavily on candidates to fundraise for themselves, which is something that didn't happen in 2011."

The Liberals have seen their popular support rebound in opinion polls. They appear to have benefited from public anger over the NDP government's 2013 decision to raise the provincial sales tax. Several recent polls estimate Liberal support at or near 20 per cent.

Fort Rouge is currently represented by Jennifer Howard, one of five former NDP cabinet ministers who publicly challenged Premier Greg Selinger's leadership. Howard has said she intends to run for re-election. In 2011, Liberal candidate Paul Hesse finished second in Fort Rouge with 23 per cent of the vote.