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LAHORE: Former president Asif Ali Zardari has expressed hope that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) will form the next government in the Centre as well as Punjab, asking workers to gear up for the 2018 election to defeat the PML-N.

Zardari hit out at the Sharifs saying they are only interested in constructing roads to “pocket commission”. He also talked about former chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry’s ‘controversial’ role in the 2013 election.

He was speaking at a party gathering in connection with the 88th birth anniversary of the late Begum Nusrat Bhutto at Bilawal House, Bahria Town, on Thursday.

“I had met Saddam Hussein and some other kings and found arrogance in them. Today similar arrogance I find in rulers here (a reference to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and some members of his cabinet) who have no regard for the poor, farmers and the youth who have been rendered jobless. They are only interested in construction of roads to get commission. They only choose those projects in which they get commission. They seem to have forgotten to die,” Zardari said.

Terming the 2013 election as that of “ROs”, Zardari said: “We knew that 2013 election were manipulated by Iftikhar Chaudhry and ROs (returning officers) but we accepted the results for the sake of democracy and Pakistan. In history PPP will remain alive.”

He said the PPP derived its power from its martyrs and those workers who served jail terms on political grounds. “We always raised the slogan of Pakistan Khappay, in difficult times too.” When workers raised the slogan of ‘Zardari teray jan nisar baishumar’, the PPP-P president asked them to chant “Pakistan teray jan nisar baishumar in connection with Pakistan Day.”

Zardari also took credit of transferring power to the prime minister from presidency. “Some people raised objection when I shifted power from presidency to the prime minister and apologised from Balochistan and named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on people’s wish,” he said, adding his government abstained from joining the Syrian war for integrity of Pakistan.

Earlier, during a meeting with PPP senior leader Shaukat Basra, Zardari said: “We will not only form the federal but also Punjab government after winning the 2018 election. In Punjab we will form coalition government.”

Critical of the government policies, Zardari said: “The PML-N government has failed to deliver. It has disappointed the people as it could not fulfill the promises it made to them.”

He further said the Bilawal House Lahore would be the centre of politics in next year’s general election and soon a Bilawal House in Multan would also be set up which would be centre of politics in south Punjab.

As for attack on Shaukat Basra and killing of a PPP worker in Lahore, Zardari said: “PPP workers will not be intimidated by the PML-N government’s arm-twisting.”

Zardari paid tribute to Begum Nusrat Bhutto for her contributions to democracy and welfare of people. “As a towering woman of great courage and conviction and enduring indescribable personal tragedies in the pursuit of democratic struggle she illumined the path,” Zardari said.

“Begum Sahiba stood tall in adversity and in doing so she has imparted lessons in tolerance and endurance that will lift the democracy-loving people to higher goals in life and is worth emulating. It is an irony of fate that when democratic struggle triumphed over the dark forces of dictatorship she was not around to savor the glory,” he said.

Former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Chaudhry Manzoor, Sardar Latif Khosa, Bashir Riaz, Sadiq Umrani, Samina Ghurki and Munawar Anjum also paid tributes to her.

Meanwhile, PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi called on Zardari at the Bilawal House.

According to a source, Zardari invited the PML-Q leadership to join hands with the PPP in its fight against the PML-N government. They also explored the idea of going together in 2018 election.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2017