LAHORE: Fissures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have been exposed with the formation of a 43-member and “large-scale” federal cabinet, central information secretary of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Shafqat Mahmood, said at a news conference here on Friday.

Dr Yasmin Rashid, the PTI’s candidate for the by-election to be held in NA-120, and MPA Mian Aslam Iqbal were also present on the occasion.

Lashing out at what he called the PML-N’s attempt to appease every faction in that party, Mr Mahmood claimed the portfolios had been distributed without any regard to the expertise of the legislators they had been given to. Ministers Khawaja Asif and Khurram Dastgir had no experience of dealing with diplomatic norms and defence matters, respectively, he said.

‘Cabinet formed without considering lawmakers’ expertise’

The PTI leader claimed that former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan wanted to become foreign minister but had been sidelined in the party. Similarly, MNA Daniyal Aziz was not compensated as per the services he had rendered for his party, he added.

Referring to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification as a member of the National Assembly, Mr Mahmood said the nation had expected that the PML-N would accept the Supreme Court’s decision in letter and spirit, as many of its spokespersons had claimed, but the party was “using foul language” against the court instead.

He said Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah had termed the Supreme Court’s decision a “fixed match”, while a certain media house continued to publish stories against the judges.

Saying that former prime minister Sharif continued to have the final word on key government matters, Mr Mahmood said the PML-N had no respect for state institutions as it continued to flout the Supreme Court’s decision.

He alleged that the PML-N was targeting Justice Ijazul Ahsan, who had been appointed to oversee the National Accountability Bureau’s references against Nawaz Sharif and his family members, as per the court decision.

In response to a question about MNA Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations against PTI chief Imran Khan, Mr Mahmood squarely blamed the PML-N for “launching a character assassination campaign” against Mr Khan. “Imran Khan did not send her any indecent message,” he said.

He said the PML-N was smarting from the Supreme Court verdict that had disqualified its leader so the PTI was on guard for a possible smear campaign. “The PML-N exposed itself in the National Assembly when all its members spoke only on the Gulalai issue,” he said.

Mr Mahmood rejected the National Assembly’s committee formed to probe harassment charges levelled against Mr Khan, calling it biased because all its members were PTI’s political rivals.

“The PTI is not against investigations into the allegations but we cannot accept investigators who had themselves launched the vilification campaign,” he asserted.

“The PML-N should not tread the path of launching smear and character assassination campaigns because doing so will lead to a disaster for political parties in particular and the country in general,” he warned.

Addressing the press conference, Dr Rashid said the Election Commission of Pakistan had given her an incomplete voter list which included names of voters registered till December 31, 2016. There were 295,000 registered voters during the 2013 general elections and now the total number had reached 325,653.

Expressing her apprehensions over the matter, she said the PML-N was planning to add some 25,000 to 30,000 voters to the list.

“An increase in the number of voters will lead to changing of block codes, which constitutes pre-poll rigging,” she said, adding that the opposition continued to grope in the dark with incomplete and incorrect voter lists.

She said the Election Commission said it did not have complete records and could not verify the voter list. Dr Rashid said there was also confusion about whether polling would be done manually or through biometric technology.

The PTI leaders chided the Punjab government for deciding to provide VIP protocol to the disqualified prime minister on his arrival in Lahore, as Mr Sharif would travel from Ravi Road bridge to Data Darbar — a route that falls in the NA-120 constituency.

Referring to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s withdrawal from the election, Dr Rashid said the chief minister was afraid of losing the election. She stressed that the media should keep a vigilant eye on pre-poll rigging in the constituency.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2017