ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s victory in the election for the office of prime minister on Friday has become almost certain as a rift persisted in the grand opposition alliance over the candidature of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday.

Mr Khan, whose nomination papers were filed by Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid in the NA secretariat after senior PTI leaders formally decided to nominate their chairman at a party meeting held at his Banigala residence, may take a lead of 30 to 35 votes in the Friday election for the office of prime minister.

While efforts were under way to remove differences between the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party over Mr Sharif’s candidature, if the two major opposition parties stick to their stance till Thursday noon (the deadline for filing of nomination papers for PM’s election) it may have an effect on the fate of the grand opposition alliance and even on the upper house of parliament.

PPP unease with Shahbaz imperils alliance with PML-N

The PPP has asked the PML-N to review its decision and nominate someone else as a joint candidate of the 11-party opposition alliance in place of Shahbaz Shairf, who was said to have passed derogatory remarks against PPP co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari in the recent past. However, the PML-N came up with a strong reaction to the demand and threatened that this could lead to change of the leader of the opposition and the chairman of the Senate.

Former NA Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, whose term came to an end on Wednesday after PTI nominee Asad Qaiser took the oath of office, and senior PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah are said to be in close contact to resolve the differences.

When contacted, PML-N’s leader Mushahid Hussain dismissed the suggestion that the party should change their nominee for the office of prime minister. “It has been decided that Shahbaz Sharif will remain our nominee,” he said.

He said the grand opposition alliance was formed to ensure fair and free elections in the country but if the PPP stuck to its stance the alliance would collapse.

Mr Hussain said it had already been decided that the candidate for the prime minister’s slot would be nominated by the PML-N and those for the office of speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly would be from the PPP and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), respectively. “The decision was specific to parties and not to individuals. And it is our right to nominate anyone from out party,” he argued.

“For the elections of National Assembly speaker, we have supported PPP’s candidate Khursheed Shah, but the PPP is asking us to change our nominee,” he added.

“We do not let anybody dictate us. If Mr Zardari is to decide on PML-N matters, then they [PPP] should permit Shahbaz Sharif to decide their matters,” he said, adding that even “martial law administrators” did not dictate the PML-N that way.

The PML-N leader said the leader of the opposition in the Senate should also be changed, as the majority party should have its opposition leader. Presently, he said, the PML-N was the largest party in the upper house of parliament. “If the PPP’s decision is not changed, then even the Senate chairman can be changed,” he warned.

Mr Hussain, however, said it had been conveyed to his party that only Mr Zardari would not vote for Mr Sharif but the PPP chairman and its candidate for NA speaker would vote for Mr Sharif.

The PML-N was earlier irked by the PPP’s decision to abstain from taking part in the protest staged by the former during the election of NA speaker and deputy speaker.

PPP leader Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar told Dawn that both parties were in contact and the issue would be resolved amicably.

“We have almost one and a half day before the PM’s election and we are hopeful that the PML-N will review it decision and change its candidate,” he said.

He said it was the PPP’s collective decision that the party would not support Mr Sharif who had issued hostile statements against the PPP leadership in recent past. However, Mr Khokhar said the PPP would never want split in the grand opposition alliance and efforts would be made to find a middle way to resolve their differences.

“We want that joint opposition should move forward,” he maintained.

About back channel negotiations, he said some of the senior leaders from the two sides were in contact to find an amicable solution to the problem.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018