ISLAMABAD: A majority of the 22 ruling party members who were not present in the National Assembly at the time of the crucial vote on the Nawaz Sharif-specific bill moved by the opposition on Tuesday were absent due to personal reasons, party insiders told Dawn, indicating that there is no organised group within the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to take on the party leadership.
The PML-N put all speculations about a possible split within the party to rest when it defeated the PPP bill seeking to restore the bar on a disqualified person from holding party office with a 163-98 vote in the National Assembly. The only minor embarrassment for the PML-N was the defiance of former prime minister and government ally Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who openly voted with the opposition benches.
The official attendance record shows that as many as 62 members, mostly belonging to the ruling party and its allies, were absent from the assembly session on Tuesday. Although most of the absent PML-N members belong to south Punjab, insiders claim that there was no concerted or collected move to stay away from the proceedings.
Prominent PML-N members who skipped the assembly session were Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif and Minister for Food Sikandar Bosan from Multan; Raza Hayat Harraj from Khanewal; Jaffar Leghari from Rajanpur; Sultan Hanjra and Basit Bokhari from Muzaffargarh; Najeeb Awaisi and Tahir Bashir Cheema from Bahawalpur; Alamdad Laleka from Bahawalnagar; Khusro Bakhtiyar from Rahim Yar Khan; Chaudhry Bilal Virk from Nankana Sahib; Najaf Abbas Sial from Jhang; Rana Umar Nazeer from Gujranwala; Dr Nisar Jatt from Faisalabad; Raja Matloob Mehdi from Jhelum and Nazir Khan from Fata.
Ruling party MNA Raza Hayat Harraj says no sane person could vote against the opposition’s bill
When contacted, a number of members claimed that they could not attend the session due to personal reasons or illness while having no difference of opinion with the party leadership over any issue.
Raza Hayat Harraj was the only party legislator who confessed that he had skipped the meeting due to a difference of opinion over the bill.
Talking to Dawn, Mr Harraj said no sane person could vote against the bill that had been tabled by the opposition. He said that after passage of the previous (PML-N) bill, even a murderer or convicted terrorist could become the head of a political party. He said the role of Mr Sharif from politics could not be eliminated, but those who had advised him to go for this legislation were “not well-wishers of the party and democracy”.
Responding to a question, he said that he had already conveyed his concerns to senior party leaders, including Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. He said he had conveyed his concerns even to the prime minister through the latter’s secretary.
Mr Harraj claimed that the decision of staying away from the proceedings was his own individual act and he had not consulted any other party member over the issue, claiming that he did not even know the names of those legislators who were not present in the assembly.
Mr Harraj, who had served as law minister during the military regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf, said that he personally believed that the Supreme Court would strike down the legislation which would create more embarrassment for the party and Mr Sharif.
Sources said that Sikandar Bosan could not attend the session due to some health issues whereas Jaffar Leghari was on a foreign visit.
Meanwhile, MNA from Fata Nazir Khan told Dawn that he was present in the party’s parliamentary meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, but had to rush back home due to the bad health condition of his father before the voting on the bill.
Similarly, Raja Matloob said that he was present in the parliamentary party meeting, but did not go to the house as he was unsure if the Election Commission of Pakistan had restored his name since his membership had been suspended for not submitting his assets’ details.
A number of key members of the other parties in the ruling coalition were also not present in the house on Tuesday. Prominent among those who skipped the meeting were JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Achakzai and Federal ministers Murtaza Jatoi of the National People’s Party and Ghous Bux Mahar of the PML-Functional. However, those members of these parties who were present in the house did support the government during the voting.
When contacted, senior vice president of the PML-F Sindh Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah said the party had no differences with the PML-N and as far as he knew, the party leadership had not issued any directives to the members regarding the voting on the bill.
PML-N Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan said the heavy defeat to the opposition’s bill in the National Assembly had laid to rest all the speculations about a possible division within the PML-N. He said there could be a few individuals having difference of opinion over certain issues, but there was no grouping within the party. He said the PML-N was united under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017