LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) claimed on Tuesday that all members of the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM) have decided to join it, even as a senior leader of the latter denied plans to merge with Imran Khan’s party.

“The PTI has reached an agreement with the JPSM leadership under which they will announce their decision to merge today (Wednesday) at a press conference in Islamabad, which will also be attended by Imran Khan,” PTI information secretary Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn on Tuesday.

During the parleys with the JPSM, Mr Chaudhry said that the PTI had made it clear that if they — around 21 sitting and former lawmakers affiliated with the front to demand a southern Punjab province — wanted to contest the upcoming election, they would have to join the PTI and contest on their election symbol. “So it has been agreed that the Mahaz would merge with the PTI,” he said.

So far, Khusro Bakhtiar, president of the JPSM, which was formed a month ago, has not issued a statement on the issue. When Dawn contacted him for comments, a senior member of the JPSM insisted that they had only agreed to forge an electoral alliance and would not entertain the possibility of merging with the PTI.

Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz leader says no such decision yet

“A draft of the agreement is being finalised for the PTI-JPSM alliance which will be made public on Wednesday. However, the Mahaz is not being merged with the PTI,” JPSM co-chairman Nasrullah Dereshik told Dawn.

“PTI chairman Imran Khan has invited us to announce a joint struggle for a separate province for the people of the south. We — PTI and JPSM — have agreed to go along in the upcoming elections. However, we have not yet decided whether all JPSP members will contest the election under PTI’s election symbol or independently with their (PTI’s) support,” he said, adding that the JPSM would maintain its identity and achieve its goal with the help of other parties, especially the PTI, after the election.

When asked if the PTI had stressed on a merger, Mr Derashik said: “We want to join hands with the PTI but at the same time we are keen to maintain the Mahaz’s independent status as we have received great response from the people of the south.”

To a similar question, PTI’s information secretary said that they had held talks with JPSM chairman (former caretaker prime minister) Balakh Sher Mazari, its president Khusro Bakhtiar and a few other members who had agreed to merge the Mahaz with the PTI.

Mr Chaudhry further said that the PTI would field its own candidates in the constituencies where Mahaz members were planning to contest elections as independent candidates. “We will include the formation of southern Punjab province in the PTI’s agenda for the first 100 days after coming to power,” he said, adding that this would also feature in the agreement with the JPSM.

Last month, more than half a dozen lawmakers from southern Punjab quit the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and formed the JPSM to struggle for the creation of a separate province and set the same agenda for their election campaign.

Mr Bakhtiar had initially announced the JPSM’s decision to tender their resignations from the National and Provincial Assemblies but later decided against it. Federal Minister Maryam Aurangzeb had claimed that the lawmakers who had joined the JPSM were those who had not voted for the bill to make former prime minister Nawaz Sharif head of the party in the National Assembly. She claimed they had already been planning to quit the party, and termed them a “bunch of opportunists”.

The JPSM leaders have claimed that more defections from the south province are on the cards. “A good number of legislators from the southern districts, mostly from the ruling party, have already made up their mind to join the Mahaz and are waiting for the completion of this government’s tenure (on May 31) to ditch it,” a member of the Mahaz said.

“We may go for some kind of seat adjustment with the PTI in the election as we have not decided to get a new party registered,” Tahir Iqbal Chaudhry, a member of the National Assembly from Vehari, had earlier said.

Most of the lawmakers who joined the JPSM had contested the 2013 elections from their constituencies as independent candidates and later joined the ruling party.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2018