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Opposition ready to back PPP nominee other than Aitzaz

Updated August 26, 2018

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MURREE: (Left) PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif waves to mediapersons from the terrace of his residence where the multi-party conference was held on Saturday as party MNA Khawaja Asif smiles. (Right) PPP leaders Yousuf Raza Gilani, Sherry Rehman and Raja Pervez Ashraf consulting with each other while the MPC progresses inside.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
MURREE: (Left) PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif waves to mediapersons from the terrace of his residence where the multi-party conference was held on Saturday as party MNA Khawaja Asif smiles. (Right) PPP leaders Yousuf Raza Gilani, Sherry Rehman and Raja Pervez Ashraf consulting with each other while the MPC progresses inside.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

MURREE: Almost all the parties in the recently-formed grand opposition alliance rejected Pakistan Peoples Party’s nominee Aitzaz Ahsan as their joint candidate for the office of president but agreed to support another person from the party, sources said.

During the multi-party conference hosted by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif at the family’s majestic residence in the picturesque Murree on Saturday, all the opposition parties protested over the unilateral nomination of Mr Ahsan by the PPP and refused to support him in the next month presidential election from the platform of the joint opposition, the sources told Dawn.

They said the PPP team, headed by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, made all-out efforts to woo other opposition parties to agree on Mr Ahsan’s nomination but their efforts bore no fruit.

After four-hour-long talks, the opposition leaders came out only to tell the media that they had agreed to field a joint candidate from the platform of Pakistan Alliance for Free and Fair Elections for the Sept 4 presidential election, but the candidate’s name would be announced by Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday (today).

Shahbaz to announce name of joint candidate today for presidential election

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that all the parties, except the PPP, had authorised Shahbaz Sharif to negotiate with the PPP and nominate any person as the presidential candidate. The sources said the PML-N had also suggested a few names, including that of former minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, from the party.

“The matter is between Shahbaz Sharif and the PPP now,” said a senior PML-N leader who attended the multi-party conference. He said the PML-N and other opposition parties were ready to support the PPP nominee other than Aitzaz Ahsan, but it did not mean that the candidate would be from the PPP only.

The PML-N leader said since leaders of all the parties also had separate meetings with Mr Sharif during the multi-party conference, therefore, it was not clear if they had discussed the name of any other candidate. He said even Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in a lighter vein had offered his own candidature for the post.

“All the parties have agreed to bring a joint presidential candidate. Many viable suggestions have been made. The PPP [delegation] has sought some more time for a discussion with its leadership,” said PML-N’s acting secretary general Ahsan Iqbal while terming the development a “breakthrough”.

“All these parties are required to be on one platform for the sake of the country.

“Wait and see, and avoid speculations,” Mr Iqbal, who was accompanied by members of other opposition parties, advised the reporters when they insisted he disclose the names which had come under discussion.

In reply to another question, PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira came forward and said Mr Ahsan was still the party’s nominee for the president’s office.

The sources said that participants in the multi-party conference had asked the PPP to suggest three names, including that of Mr Ahsan, as a face-saving move, giving them the choice to choose one name.

According to the sources, the PPP leaders also sought a clarification over a recent statement of PML-N Senator Pervez Rashid. Mr Rashid had asked Mr Ahsan to apologise to the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif over his ‘controversial’ statement. The PML-N leaders, however, told the PPP delegation that it was Mr Rashid’s ‘personal’ statement and the party had nothing to do with it.

Referring to the Election Commission of Pakistan move to go for electronic polling process in the upcoming by-elections, Mr Iqbal said the opposition parties supported the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis but the ECP was trying to implement the system “in haste”. The ECP’s online system had already failed during the general elections, he said. He explained that information technology experts had already warned that the system could be hacked.

The PML-N leader also expressed concern over the “threats” being received by leaders of opposition parties.

“It is the duty of the government to provide security to opposition leaders, and the incumbent government should take notice of the threatening calls being made to certain leaders of opposition parties,” he added.

Mr Iqbal criticised the PTI-led coalition government for putting the names of ousted premier and his daughter Maryam Nawaz on the Exit Control List. The decision was taken by the federal cabinet in its first meeting, he said while terming the move “vindictive”.

Earlier during the day, former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, former information minister Marriyam Aurangzeb and former minister Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry received leaders of the opposition parties on behalf of the PML-N before the start of the multi-party conference.

While waiting for them, the PML-N leaders earlier during an informal talk with reporters expressed their off-the-record views about the country’s political situation, the future of the PTI-led coalition governments at the Centre and in Punjab and about their possible strategies in the parliament.

The reporters were served food and refreshments at the adjacent lawn of the room while the opposition leaders discussed their strategy for the presidential election.

On several occasions, the PPP and the PML-N leaders were seen separately coming to the terrace to hold consultations, prompting the reporters to draw their own inferences.

PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and former minister Khawaja Asif were seen on the terrace discussing some important matters for nearly 20 minutes and then former premiers Yusuf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervez Ashraf were seen holding consultations with Senator Sherry Rehman and former minister Syed Naveed Qamar.

Others who attended the meeting included Syed Khursheed Shah and Qamar Zaman Kaira (PPP); Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and Akram Durrani (JUI-F); Liaquat Baloch of the Jamaat-i-Islami; Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party; Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and Mian Iftikhar Hussain of the Awami National Party and Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

According to the ECP, the presidential election will be held on Sept 4 — five days before the expiry of the five-year term of the incumbent, President Mamnoon Hussain. The last date for submission of the nominations papers is Aug 27 (tomorrow).

The PTI has nominated MNA from Karachi Dr Arif Alvi as the candidate of the ruling alliance.

The decision to hold the multi-party conference had been made by the PML-N leaders after a PPP delegation comprising former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani and Syed Khursheed Shah visited the former’s secretariat in Lahore on Aug 21 to seek support for Mr Ahsan.

The grand alliance, which was formed by 11 opposition parties soon after the July 25 elections, suffered a blow within weeks after its formation. The controversy erupted following the PPP’s refusal to vote for PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif as a joint opposition candidate for the PM office despite agreeing on a formula during the previous multi-party conference that had authorised the PML-N to nominate its candidate for PM’s election.

The PML-N leaders, who claimed that they had come to know about Mr Ahsan’s nomination through the media, stated in categorical terms that Mr Ahsan could not be considered a joint opposition candidate for presidential election because the PPP had not consulted any of the opposition parties before making the decision.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2018