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ISLAMABAD: The opposition alliance has fallen apart before even taking off after the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) decided to “abstain” from today’s vote in the National Assembly for the office of prime minister due to refusal of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to replace its candidate, making the contest a one-sided affair.

Besides the PPP, the one-man Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) — which had contested the July 25 elections from the platform of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) with four other religious parties — has also decided to stay away from the election for PM office on Friday (today). This is despite the fact that the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) — the main component of the MMA — is insisting that they should vote for PML-N nominee Shahbaz Sharif in line with the decision taken at the multi-party conference held in Islam­abad earlier this month.

See: Unity with a dash of disunity: the hallmark of the Grand Opposition Alliance

Sources told Dawn that using backdoor channels, the PML-N contacted the PPP leadership many times throughout the day on Thursday, asking it to review its decision in the larger interest of the opposition’s unity, but the PPP refused to reverse its decision.

A PPP spokesman, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, said the party after a meeting had decided that its members would vote for neither Shahbaz Sharif nor Imran Khan.

JI, too, decides to stay away from PM election; Fazl meets Zardari to persuade him to review abstention decision

“Since the PML-N has paid no heed to our request to reconsider its position, it is our final decision that we will abstain (from the vote)”, Mr Khokhar said.

The PPP meeting was presided over by its chief Asif Zardari and attended by Syed Khursheed Shah, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Sherry Rehman, Chaudhry Manzoor, Faisal Karim Kundi and Mr Khokhar, besides others.

Another PPP leader and office-bearer said the party members would participate in the assembly proceedings, but would not use their right of vote.

He disclosed that there “is a division within the party over the issue, but the leaders from Punjab have forced the leadership to stick to its earlier stance of not giving vote to former chief minister of the province Shahbaz Sharif because of his ‘insulting remarks’ in public meetings about Mr Zardari.

The PPP leader said his party had told the PML-N that the former was ready to vote for the latter’s nominee other than Shahbaz Sharif, but the N-League was insisting on Mr Sharif’s candidature. “Therefore, the PPP has been left with no option but to stay away from the voting.”

He said the PML-N should appreciate the fact that the PPP had not fielded its own candidate against Shahbaz Sharif.

Another senior leader of the PPP, who remained involved in the talks with the PML-N, said most of the PPP members believed that Shahbaz Sharif should at least have shown the courtesy of coming to Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during the inaugural session of the NA or the election of the speaker and deputy speaker to shake hands with them as a goodwill gesture. He said both Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Khan in the past had used objectionable language against the PPP leadership, but the PTI chief at least took the initiative and greeted both Mr Zardari and Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

The PPP leader was of the view that Shahbaz Sharif was set to become leader of opposition in the lower house, and he should know that he was required to take all opposition parties along.

Sources in the PPP said the PML-N leaders had offered that Shahbaz Sharif would come to Mr Zardari in the house for a handshake, but they wanted a “guarantee” that Mr Zardari would not cause any embarrassment for Mr Sharif by turning his back to him. The sources said the PPP leaders told the PML-N men that Mr Zardari was not a “discourteous man”.

In another development, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman called on Asif Zardari apparently in an attempt to pursue the PPP to reconsider its decision of abstaining from prime minister’s election.

At a time when some PML-N leaders were trying to mend ways with the PPP, Rana Sanaullah aggravated the situation when he made a statement that Asif Zardari was doing all this due to some “compulsions.”

Talking to a TV channel, MNA Sanaullah said Mr Zardari was facing the present situation due to his “own weaknesses.”

When contacted, the PML-N’s Mushahid Hussain Sayed claimed that in the MPC all the parties had agreed on a formula that the PPP would field the candidate for the office of the speaker and the MMA for the deputy speaker while the PML-N had been authorised to nominate anyone as the candidate for the office of the prime minister against Imran Khan.

“It was a party-specific decision and not person-specific,” Mr Sayed said, adding if the PPP would not fulfil its commitment, definitely the trust deficit between them would increase.

He said the PML-N had fulfilled its commitment by voting for Khursheed Shah and Asad Mehmood in the elections for the offices of the speaker and the deputy speaker.

“If they want to take a U-turn, it’s up to them but breaking up of the opposition’s alliance will be a disappointment for the nation,” the PML-N leader added.

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.

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 the NA speaker and deputy speaker.

Talking to Dawn, the JI’s Liaquat Baloch said their Shura had also decided to abstain from PM’s elections. He said the JI, which had only one MNA out of the 15 MMA members, had informed the Alliance leadership about its decision.

Responding to a question, he blamed both the PPP and the PML-N for betraying the opposition alliance and not fulfilling their commitment. He said that a meeting of the parliamentary committee of the MMA would be held on Friday.

Meanwhile, the PTI seems to be in a comfortable position and Imran Khan is likely to get more than the required 172 votes in the 342-member lower house of the Parliament.

The PTI’s nominees for the offices of the speaker and deputy speaker had secured 176 and 183 votes, respectively.

The parties which have either already announced their support to the PTI or are expected to vote for its nominees are the MQM with seven seats; PML-Q and BAP with five seats each; BNP (four seats); GDA (three); and Awami Muslim League and Jamhoori Watan Party (with one seat each). Besides them, nine independents have joined the PTI. Four independents who have decided to maintain their independent status are also expected to vote for the PTI. So Imran Khan could even get 180 votes.

The PML-N with 82 seats is the largest party in the opposition group, followed by PPP (53 seats), MMA (15 seats) and ANP (one seat).

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2018