LAHORE: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s hopes to spark a ‘grand debate’ over a new social contract and to strengthen the position of democratic forces by amending the Constitution appear to have been dashed as the Pakistan Peoples Party has refused to become party to such an exercise.

“We will not become a part of any such grand national dialogue,” PPP co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari categorically told party leaders here on Wednesday.

His statement comes in the wake of Mr Sharif’s announcement at the end of his homecoming journey in Lahore on Aug 12 that he wanted to amend the Constitution and do away with the existing system that was “plagued by a virus”.

The ousted PM had referred to and endorsed Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani’s suggestion to amend the Constitution and to initiate a dialogue between parliament, the military establishment and the judiciary to avert a collision between the institutions.

Earlier, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who has also arrived in Lahore to attend the party’s consultations on formulating a future political strategy in Punjab, had refused to lend the PML-N support in amending the Constitution. The views expressed by Mr Zardari and Mr Bhutto-Zardari in this regard make it almost clear that Senate chairman had not consulted the party leadership before sharing his views and that his remarks did not reflect the party’s policy.

“When I don’t wish to be in contact with Mian Nawaz Sharif, then why the talk of [joining] the dialogue,” Mr Zardari —often described as a proponent of reconciliation — was quoted as telling party leaders at Wednesday’s meeting. “Neither do I have any contact with Nawaz Sharif, nor do I wish to have any.”

A seemingly embittered Mr Zardari said that Mr Sharif would have different priorities when in power and in opposition, and questioned why the PML-N had not agreed to do away with Articles 62 and 63 when the-then PPP-led government had suggested it during the negotiations leading up to the 18th Amendment.

A PML-N leader, however, downplayed the PPP’s stance, saying that no attempt had yet been made to approach any political force or civil society organisation on the issue, so there was no question of rejecting it.

“Mr Sharif is yet to frame his narrative on the new social contract and only after one has been formulated will representatives of political parties, NGOs, lawyers, writers, and journalists be invited to discuss it,” says party spokesperson Senator Asif Kirmani.

Meanwhile, PPP spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar has dispelled the impression that Mr Zardari and Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s presence in Lahore is aimed at meeting the former prime minister.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017