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Deadlock persists over Aitzaz nomination

Updated August 27, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman presides over a meeting of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal 
on Sunday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman presides over a meeting of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal on Sunday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: While the grand opposition alliance after a multiparty conference had announced that it would field a joint candidate for the presidential election, the parties failed to reach consensus even on Sunday as the Pakistan Peoples Party remained firm on Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan’s nomination — a decision rejected by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The failure of the opposition parties to field a joint candidate will virtually provide a walkover to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) candidate Dr Arif Alvi, an MNA from Karachi, for the president’s office.

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

Senior PPP leader Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed confirmed that since the opposition parties had failed to break the deadlock despite several attempts, his party leadership finally gave a go-ahead to Mr Ahsan to submit his nomination papers on Monday morning (today) in Islamabad before 12 noon — the deadline for filing of documents for the Sept 4 election.

It is not yet clear if the PML-N will finally field its own candidate or will abstain from the election process as the PPP had done at the time of the election for the prime minister office when the latter had refused to back PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif’s candidature.

Deadline for filing of papers for presidential election ends today

Sources in the opposition told Dawn that the PPP and PML-N representatives directly and with the help of mediators remained in contact with each other throughout the day in their bid to reach an understanding, but all their efforts failed after the PPP’s refusal to withdraw Mr Ahsan’s name.

A PPP delegation comprising Khursheed Shah, Naveed Qamar, Chaudhry Manzoor and Qamar Zaman Kaira met PML-N leaders at the Parliament Lodges residence of former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq late on Sunday night but later left without talking to reporters waiting outside.

PML-N’s acting secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, however, told media that they had been still making all-out efforts to bring a joint opposition candidate, expressing the hope that the PPP might show “flexibility”.

Mr Iqbal said if they failed to agree on a consensus candidate, it would be a “setback” and a bad omen for democracy.

Responding to a question, he refused to disclose the names being discussed by the two parties for the presidential candidate. He said they wanted to maintain “privacy”.

MMA not to back Aitzaz

In another significant development, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) announced that it had decided not to support Mr Ahsan.

Talking to reporters after a meeting of the MMA’s supreme council, Liaquat Baloch said the component parties of the alliance had unanimously decided not to support Mr Ahsan, as the PPP had announced his nomination without taking other opposition parties on board.

Before going to attend the MMA meeting, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman during an exclusive talk with Geo News termed the situation “disappointing” and confirmed that despite his efforts, the PPP and the PML-N had refused to budge from their stated positions.

He said a PPP delegation had met him hours after attending the multiparty conference in Murree and told him in categorical terms that they were not ready to withdraw the candidature of Mr Ahsan. He said when he talked to the PML-N leaders they also categorically told him that they could not support Mr Ahsan.

The JUI-F confirmed that during the Murree talks, all the opposition parties had expressed their reservations over the PPP’s move to nominate Mr Ahsan without consulting them.

Speaking to reporters after the four-hour-long Murree talks on Saturday, leaders of the opposition parties had announced that they had agreed to field a joint candidate from the platform of Pakistan Alliance for Free and Fair Elections and the name of the candidate would be announced by Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday.

“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,” PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal had said 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 advised the reporters when they repeatedly asked him to disclose the names which had come under discussion.

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

Sources said participants in the multiparty conference had asked the PPP to suggest three names, including that of Mr Ahsan for face saving, giving them the choice to choose one name. The PPP leaders, however, told the leaders of the other opposition parties that they would inform Mr Sharif about their decisions by Saturday midnight.

According to sources in the PPP, former president and party co-chairman Asif Zardari had not accepted the MPC’s proposal, thus throwing the spanner in the efforts to find a middle way to resolve the matter amicably in order to give a tough fight to the PTI in the Sept 4 contest.

Talking to Dawn on Sunday, senior PPP leader Khursheed Shah hinted at his party’s decision to not withdraw Mr Ahsan’s nomination.

The country required a person like Mr Ahsan to present a better face of Pakistan at the international level, Mr Shah said, adding that not only the PML-N but the PTI, too, should support him for the position.

However, PML-N information secretary Mushahidullah Khan alleged that the PPP was not interested in maintaining unity in the opposition’s ranks. He said the party had been behaving as a “B-team” of the ruling PTI since the Senate elections held in March.

The PML-N leader alleged that the PPP was doing all this under pressure, because Mr Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur had received a notice from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the same day when the opposition parties were trying to reach a consensus on the name of a joint candidate for presidential election.

“We cannot allow the FIA to run the opposition’s politics,” he said.

Khursheed Shah, however, refuted the allegation and said there was no pressure on Mr Zardari or the PPP due to the FIA notices, as Mr Zardari had already spent 11 years in jail and was not afraid of such tactics.

“We can also say that Shahbaz Sharif is doing all this under pressure,” the PPP leader said in an apparent reference to a number of inquiries pending against the PML-N president.

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 the PM’s election.

Later, the PPP nominated Aitzaz Ahsan as its candidate for the president. 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’s name could not be considered as the PPP had not consulted any of the opposition parties before making the decision and also because of his ‘nasty remarks’ over the illness of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom Nawaz.

The sources said the PML-N had also proposed the names of former minister retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch as the candidate of the joint opposition. Besides, the sources said, the PML-N and other opposition parties had told the PPP during the Murree talks that they were ready to support a PPP nominee other than Aitzaz Ahsan. The PML-N had even suggested to the PPP that it could nominate persons like Raza Rabbani, Farhatullah Babar and Yousuf Raza Gilani. However, sources in the PPP said, it was unlikely that Mr Zardari would approve the names of Mr Rabbani or Mr Babar.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, the presidential election will be held on Sept 4 — five days before the expiry of the five-year term of President Mamnoon Hussain.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2018