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ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman talks to media personnel after his meeting with leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and other parties on Monday.­—Online
ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman talks to media personnel after his meeting with leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and other parties on Monday.­—Online

ISLAMABAD: The possibility of a grand opposition alliance looms before the future parliament as leaders of four groups on Monday agreed they would launch a joint protest campaign “inside and outside the parliament” against alleged rigging in the July 25 elections.

Elections 2018: we knew this was going to happen eventually

Senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and Awami National Party (ANP) met at the residence of speaker of the outgoing assembly Ayaz Sadiq in Islamabad, and agreed that they would not leave the field open for their opponents and will give the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the party looking to form the future government, a tough time.

Although the PTI has emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly after the polls, the final results issued by the ECP, however, show that the party is still short of the numbers required to form a government independently. According to the results, the PTI has bagged 115 general seats — 22 short of a simple majority — whereas the PML-N and PPP have won 64 and 43 seats, respectively.

Sources told Dawn that Maulana Fazlur Rehman had suggested that they should jointly field candidates for the parliamentary offices and make every effort to prevent the PTI from forming its government at the Centre. Since the MMA has 12 seats, the combined seats of the PPP, PML-N and MMA come up to 117 — two more than the number of seats the PTI has.

After division within MMA, Maulana Fazl agrees to review decision of boycotting assembly; demands parliamentary probe into poll rigging charges

According to sources, Maulana Fazlur Rehman agreed to reconsider his earlier decision of boycotting the upcoming National Assembly apparently at the insistence of the PPP and the PML-N, and due to a division within the MMA. The sources said the Maulana had told the other two parties that he would consult leaders of his party and the MMA, and would inform them about their decision.

At Ayaz Sadiq’s house on Monday, leaders of the four parties discussed strategies for holding a strong protest in the National Assembly as well as outside the parliament during its first sitting when the newly-elected members would take oath, sources said.

The leaders also agreed in principle that they would demand the formation of a parliamentary commission to probe charges of rigging and alleged interference of some institutions in the polling process.

“A parliamentary commission is the best option to probe rigging and fix responsibility. The commission can be formed under a person like Raza Rabbani,” said a senior PML-N leader, though he said that no names were discussed at the meeting.

This was the first direct meeting of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif with PPP leaders in recent years.

Besides Mr Sharif, the PML-N was represented by Mr Sadiq, Raja Zafarul Haq, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ameer Muqam, Shah Muhammad Shah and retired Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch.

The PPP delegation comprised Syed Khursheed Shah, Sherry Rehman, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Syed Naveed Qamar, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Farhatullah Babar. Maulana Fazlur Rehman was joined by Akram Durrani, whereas Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and Mian Iftikhar Hussain represented the ANP.

Talking to Dawn, PML-N’s Mushahid Hussain termed the meeting positive, saying that democratic forces were coming closer to form a “united front” inside and outside the parliament. He said that the parties would hold several meetings in the coming days.

Responding to a question, the PML-N leader said so far, they had not discussed a strategy for elections of the speaker, deputy speaker and the prime minister. He said another multi-party conference (MPC) would be convened to finalise a joint strategy for opposition parties.

PPP’s Sherry Rehman said they had tried to explain to the Maulana that boycotting the parliament was not a good option for them. She said that PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had convened a meeting of the party in Karachi on Tuesday (today) to discuss the post-election scenario.

Talking to reporters following the meeting, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said it had been decided that they would “form a strong opposition both inside and outside parliament”. He said all the parties had rejected the polls results.

ANP’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour said the “establishment” should not have interfered in the poll process as by doing so, it had brought a bad name for itself.

Senior PML-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq alleged that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had “remained ineffective” in the conduct of the election and demanded that the chief election commissioner (CEC) should resign.

MMA chief Fazlur Rehman said all parties were deliberating on the issue so they could arrive at a consensus regarding a future course of action. He also criticised the electronic media for not showing protests being held all over the country against the alleged rigging in the elections. He urged the media to join hands with political forces in the struggle for upholding democracy in the country.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2018