Nawaz Sharif exchanging views with Sanaullah Zehri during a press conference.— File Photo by APP.
PML-N President of Balochistan chapter Sanaullah Zehri. — File Photo.
Zehri addressing a press conference. — Photo provided by Syed Ali Shah.
There’s no agenda, and there’s no ideology – most of the elected MPAs in the Balochistan Assembly are striving to sit on the treasury benches.
The independents for one, almost all of them, have decided to join a coalition government to be headed by the Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The party has also received support from a Majlas Wahdat ul Muslimeen (MWM) candidate, and former chief minister Sardar Saleh Bhootani.
But while everyone jumping on the bandwagon has promised unconditional support, the reality is that every MPA sets a condition behind the scenes before promising allegiance on camera. What seems to be getting in the way of bargaining power, however, is the 18th Amendment, which would prevent ministerial portfolios being awarded to more than 15 members of the assembly.
But the portfolios is what they want: "I want to be a minister since my people voted for me I have no other political agenda,” says an independent candidate who nevertheless requested anonymity, told Dawn.com.
The problem is also related to how an overflowing cabinet is a sign of bad provincial government. In the previous provincial government’s tenure, headed by Nawab Aslam Raisani, more than 50 ministers and advisers in the house of 65 set a bad precedent.
The heavy expenditures of such a large number of ministers is also scarcely affordable for the poorest province in the country. According to a World Bank report, Balochistan is lagging behind all other federating units in Pakistan if measured according to 10 key social indicators including education and health.
Against this backdrop, the race for choice posts is likely to be closely fought. The Pakthunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), which has emerged as the largest parliamentary group in the province, is yet to play its cards. However, the understanding between the Baloch nationalist group, National Party (NP) and PkMAP on the formation of government has improved. NP chief Dr. Malik Baloch called on PkMAP chief Mehmood Achakzai to discuss mechanisms for setting up the provincial government.
At the same time, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) which had the lion's share in the previous coalition government has again made an attempt to be part of the next coalition government in Balochistan. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman called on Shahbaz Sharif and agreed to be sit on the treasury benches. With the JUI-F joining the ranks, PKMAP and NP will not feel comfortable.
Then of course, there’s Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) – a party which may have serious differences in the centre with Nawaz, but which has backed PML-N to form a coalition government in Balochistan. These include PML-Q members Sheikh Jaafar Mandokhail, Amanullah Notezai, Karim Nosherwani, and Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo.
"We welcome PML-Q members in our alliance," PML-N Balochistan chapter President Nawab Sanaullah Zehri said at a crowded press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Zehri said the restoration of durable peace in the violence-stricken province would be the first priority of the future coalition government. "First peace, then development," Zehri said.
Outside of the winning parties’ MPAs, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif must also be taken into this calculus – his decision on Balochistan is seen as crucial. Nawaz has good relations with both Achakzai and Dr. Malik and he is likely to try to accommodate both groups in the future setup.
The public however, has expressed little interest in new alliances in the provincial government. Their demand, first and foremost, is peace in Balochistan.