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Jockeying for top Senate posts intensifies

Updated March 09, 2018

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PTI leader Imran Khan addressing a press conference with Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo.—Online
PTI leader Imran Khan addressing a press conference with Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) appears to be losing ground after its co-chairman Asif Zardari’s act of ditching Raza Rabbani as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has stepped up its efforts to consolidate its position on the issue of election for the offices of Senate chairman and deputy chairman.

The federal capital witnessed another hectic day of political manoeuvrings on Thursday, with Balochistan House becoming the centre of activities after arrival of six independent senators-elect from the province in the city along with Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo and PML-N dissident and former deputy chairman of the Senate Jan Muhammad Jamali.

First, a delegation of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by its chairman Imran Khan met the guests from Balochistan and latter in the night Mr Zardari met the members of the independent group to woo their support for the party’s nominees for the key Senate offices.

Talking to reporters after his meeting with the Balochistan chief minister, Mr Zardari, who had on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of nominating Mr Rabbani for the office of Senate chairman, presented a brief charge sheet against him, alleging that Mr Rabbani did not resist “unconstitutional acts” of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and that was why he had become more close to Mr Sharif.

PTI, PPP woo Balochistan senators in Islamabad for talks; PML-N consults allies, reaches out to MQM factions, PML-F

“I do not want to malign my chairman,” Mr Zardari said when asked about the reasons for his decision of not nominating Mr Rabbani.

The PPP leader alleged that Mr Rabbani also did nothing to remove the party’s concerns and reservations on the issue of the implementation of the 18th Constitution Amendment.

Mr Zardari claimed that the Balochistan chief minister had authorised him to take final decision regarding the nomination of the candidate for the Senate chairman, adding that he would not disappoint him.

He claimed to have “required numbers” for the Senate chairman election. He evaded a question regarding the possibility of cooperation between the PPP and the PTI.

Responding to a question about reports that the party had nominated Salim Mandviwala for the Senate chairman office, he smilingly replied, “Insha Allah”.

On the other hand, the ruling PML-N, without caring for the presence of the Balochistan members in the capital, went into a huddle with its supreme leader Nawaz Sharif in the chair to chalk out a strategy for the March 12 oath-taking of the newly elected senators and the election of chairman and deputy chairman the same day.

The PML-N leaders also discussed the issue of alleged dual nationality of the party’s three senators-elect whose victory notification was withheld by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the directive of the Supreme Court.

Soon after the meeting, Minister for Climate Change and PML-N information secretary Mushahidullah Khan left for Karachi to hold a second round of negotiations with two factions of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and PML-Functional chief Pir Pagara.

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that Mr Khan was expected to hold separate meetings with the heads of the MQM factions — Dr Farooq Sattar and Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui — and the Pir Pagara on Friday (today). He will be accompanied by Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair and PML-N Senator Saleem Zia.

The sources said a PML-N delegation comprising Raja Zafarul Haq, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and Mushahid Hussain Sayed once again consulted its allies, including Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and National Party (NP) president Hasil Bizenjo.

The PML-N delegation invited the heads of the coalition partners to a final meeting with Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Saturday. The sources said Maulana Fazl was also expected to meet Mr Sharif at the latter’s Jati Umra residence in Lahore on Friday in which he would brief the former prime minister on his Wednesday’s meeting with Mr Zardari.

In another development, Awami National Party (ANP) MNA and former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Hoti called on Mr Sharif and discussed the prevailing political situation.

A PML-N leader, who was present in the meeting, claimed that the ANP, which now has only one senator, had expressed its desire to support the ruling party after PPP’s refusal to nominate Raza Rabbani again for the office of Senate chairman. Similarly, he said, the PML-N was also expected to get the support of lone senator from Balochistan National Party-Mengal Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini and also of two senators from Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), including its emir Sirajul Haq.

When asked that the JI was sitting on the opposition benches and also it was a coalition partner with the PTI in KP, the PML-N leader claimed that Prime Minister’s Adviser on Political Affairs Engineer Amir Muqam was in touch with the JI leadership and they had received positive signals from the other side.

In response to a question, he said that though the PML-N had established contact with the independent group from Balochistan, the leadership was not willing to give them too much importance as the party already had the required numbers to get the top Senate offices.

Meanwhile, the PTI chairman announced that he had handed over his party’s 12 senators to Balochistan Chief Minister Bizenjo and authorised him to hold negotiations with other parties, considering them a block of 20 senators.

Talking to reporters after a meeting with Mr Bizenjo, Imran Khan said the PTI wanted to see the next Senate chairman from Balochistan.

Thanking Mr Khan for his support, the chief minister said they would try to convince Mr Zardari that the Senate chairman should be nominated from Balochistan.

Mr Khan was accompanied by former PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen, MNA Asad Umar and information secretary Fawad Chaudhry.

Later talking to Dawn, Mr Chaudhry said the main objective of the PTI was to prevent the top Senate offices from falling into the lap of the PML-N.

When asked about the party’s strategy if the independents from Balochistan decided to support the PPP nominee, he said: “We will decide when such a time comes.”

Earlier in the day, talking to reporters after appearing before an accountability court, Mr Sharif said he had proposed the name of Mr Rabbani considering him the most suitable person believing that his nomination would end the chances of further horse-trading in the Senate elections. He said Mr Achakzai, Maulana Fazl and Mr Bizenjo were with the party and they had the required numbers in the Senate.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2018