ISLAMABAD: The race for the office of the Senate opposition leader took an interesting turn on Saturday when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) claimed to have support of some of the senators on the list submitted by the PPP’s Sherry Rehman with her nomination.

The PTI also alleged that Ms Rehman had submitted her nomination to Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani before time which, according to it, amounted to violation of rules.

In another development, the PTI formally nominated Senator Azam Khan Swati as its candidate for the opposition leader’s office. It expressed the hope that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would withdraw Ms Rehman’s candidature as a goodwill gesture in return for the PTI’s support to the Saleem Mandviwalla during the election for the office of Senate deputy chairman.

Talking to Dawn, PTI information secretary Fawad Chaudhry, who had earlier in the day addressed a press conference with Mr Swati, claimed that six independent senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) had told them that they had not yet decided their affiliation and would make a final decision on Monday (tomorrow).

Challenges PPP’s list containing names of senators supporting Sherry Rehman

Similarly, he said, a section of the media had wrongly reported that the five independent senators from Balochistan had joined the PPP. He claimed that the PTI was in contact with the Balochistan senators.

Asked to identify those members who had assured the PTI of their support despite putting their signatures on Ms Rehman’s nomination, the PTI leader gave only the name of Fata Senator Aurangzeb Khan.

Speaking at the news conference after his nomination, Mr Swati said Sherry Rehman’s letter to the Senate chairman was in violation of the rules.

Interestingly, when contacted, Aurangzeb Khan confirmed that he had signed Ms Rehman’s nomination, but now was reconsidering his decision.

Mr Khan claimed the Fata senators would make their decision on their own and so far they had decided not to join any political party. When asked if he was ready to support Mr Swati for the opposition’s leader office, he simply said they would support a party which would back Fata people and which was close to the tribal people.

The Fata senator confirmed that the PTI had been in contact with him, saying he might have to change his decision now.

The brother of Aurangzeb Khan is a PTI member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

On the other hand, talking to Dawn, Sherry Rehman expressed her surprise over the PTI leaders’ news conference, saying all the senators had voluntarily supported her nomination. She said the PPP was the largest opposition party in the Senate and, therefore, it had the right to get the opposition leader’s office.

Refuting the PTI’s allegation, she said she had submitted her nomination in accordance with the rules of the Senate. She explained that under the rules, they were supposed to submit their nominations with the signatures of the supporters within seven days of the announcement by the Senate chairman that the independent members had the choice to join any party and not after seven days.

Ms Rehman said the members who had put their signatures on her nomination were free to withdraw their support as it was their democratic right.

She said the PTI was raising a hue and cry when the time for it had passed. The PTI should have expressed its desire to get the opposition leader’s office when they were engaged with PPP before the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman, she explained.

A senior PTI leader admitted that the party should have struck the deal before agreeing to vote for Mr Mandviwalla.

The opposition presently has 55 members in the 104-member Senate. With 20 senators, the PPP is the largest party, followed by the PTI with 12 members, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) with five senators and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) with two members. The number of independents from Balochistan and Fata stands at 15, excluding Sadiq Sanjrani, who has been elected as the Senate chairman.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that the party was also in touch with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), which had five senators, as the party on several occasions in the past had requested the Senate chairman to allot them seats on the opposition benches. The PkMAP is a partner of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the federal ruling alliance, but its senators always claim that they should be counted on the opposition benches.

The sources said that in case the PPP required support of more members for the opposition leader’s office, it could seek the support of PkMAP senators, whose chances of joining hands with Imran Khan-led PTI were remote due to the party’s frontal attacks on their leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai.

Under the rules, the Senate chairman is required to formally nominate the opposition leader by March 26.

The office was previously held by PPP’s Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, who retired as senator after the completion of his six-year term on March 11.

Ms Rehman had submitted her nomination with the signatures of 33 members to the Senate chairman on Thursday.

Except for the PTI, the MQM and the JI, the members of all other opposition parties and independent senators had endorsed her nomination as the new leader of the opposition in the Senate.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2018