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LAHORE: Although Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah have appointed retired Justice Javed Iqbal as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has stepped up efforts to have the required members in parliament to replace the PPP man with either Imran Khan or Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

“We have established contacts with some members. However, consultation with the MQM-Pakistan, Jamaat-i-Islami and PML-Q has already been made for changing the opposition leader and hopefully in coming days there will be good news,” PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Dawn on Sunday.

Asked if the PTI had finalised its candidate [for opposition leader], he said: “Let us first have the required number.”

Mr Qureshi put to rest the rumours about differences in the PTI ranks about who would be the candidate in the party for opposition leader’s slot. “Khan Sahib has addressed this matter.”

For PTI, change of opposition leader is very important as caretaker set-up for the 2018 election is formed in consultation with the premier and the opposition leader.

The opposition members, under the rules, are required to simply inform the speaker in writing that they want to change the opposition leader. The speaker, after verifying that the majority of the opposition members have signed the request, will be bound to nominate the new leader of the opposition.

Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif does not want replacement of Mr Shah with a PTI man.

“PML-N believes if PTI somehow manages to succeed, things will be very difficult for it to form a caretaker set-up [of its choice]. Therefore, it will make sure PTI does not come even close to the required number,” a PML-N leader from central Punjab told this reporter.

He said the JUI of Fazlur Rehman and PkMAP of Mahmood Achakzai would leave the treasury benches to support the PPP in case PTI’s candidate came closer to compete with Mr Shah.

Things will be easier for Mr Qureshi if the 32-member PTI gets the support of 24 members of MQM-P, PML-Q’s two and Jamaat-i-Islami’s four and one each of Awami Muslim League and Qaumi Watan Party.

The 47-member PPP has the support of the two MNAs of the Awami National Party and one MNA of the Balochistan National Party. Mr Qureshi has lost the hope of roping in ANP as he believes it would stay loyal to the PPP.

“ANP will not leave PPP,” Mr Qureshi said.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2017