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ISLAMABAD: Though the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is officially backing Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s candidature for the upcoming presidential election, there is a group within the party which is unhappy over the party’s decision to nominate the Maulana, terming it a “bad choice”.

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn some of the party legislators were even thinking of abstaining during the September 4 polls as they were unwilling to vote for the JUI-F chief, who had presented himself as a candidate after the failure of the opposition parties to find a consensus candidate for the top constitutional office.

“There are two voices in the party over the move to support the JUI-F chief,” said a senior PML-N leader and senator.

The politician said the Maulana was a “self-appointed” candidate and his party had no choice but to support him after the opposition alliance had failed to break a deadlock over the nomination of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Some legislators may abstain from voting process

“It will be a waste of time to go for voting [during the presidential poll] as we have already provided a walkover to the ruling alliance,” said the PML-N leader, who had played a major role in bringing the opposition parties on one platform after the general elections in the country.

Another PML-N leader complained that the party leadership had not taken the party’s parliamentarians into confidence before nominating Maulana Fazl as a candidate. He said the party legislators were now being told that they had no choice but to support the Maulana when he himself had offered his candidature saying that he would succeed in persuading PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari to withdraw Mr Ahsan’s nomination. The JUI-F chief, however, failed in his efforts.

The PML-N leader was of the opinion that either the party should have nominated someone from the party, like Ayaz Sadiq, Ahsan Iqbal, Raja Zafarul Haq or Mushahidullah Khan, or it should have asked the nationalist parties from Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to nominate a candidate.

He endorsed the viewpoint of some PPP leaders that the Maulana was not a suitable choice for the president’s office as his ascent to the coveted position would portray a negative image of the country at the international level.

PPP’s Latif Khosa during a television show had stated that Maulana Fazl could not visit many countries where he had been declared a “persona non grata”.

Soon after submitting his nomination papers on Tuesday, the Maulana had called on Mr Zardari and requested him to withdraw his party’s candidate in his favour for the sake of opposition’s unity. Mr Zardari, however, told him that he would respond to his request after consulting his party members. Next day, after a party meeting, a PPP delegation formally informed the Maulana that they had decided to stick to the name of Mr Ahsan for the president’s office and asked him to withdraw from the race.

When contacted to seek his comments on reports about a division within the party over the nomination of Maulana Fazl, PML-N’s information secretary Mushahidullah Khan said there could be a group of some “liberal members” in the party who were unhappy over the Maulana’s nomination only because he belonged to a religious party which was not liked by western countries.

He agreed that the PML-N and other opposition parties had nominated the Maulana as the presidential candidate believing that he might succeed in persuading Mr Zardari to withdraw the PPP’s nominee due to his special relationship with the former president.

Mr Khan said that he personally believed that the JUI-F chief was the most suitable person for the president’s office, if compared to Mr Ahsan and Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). He said that there was no doubt that Maulana Fazl was a seasoned and experienced politician and he had the capability of taking all the parties along.

Meanwhile, JUI-F information secretary Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, when contacted, denied that the Maulana had himself offered his candidature and claimed that it was the PML-N which had suggested his name as the opposition’s candidate. He said that even the JUI-F was not in favour of the Maulana contesting the election and during its Shura meeting, the party members had advised their chief to stay away from the elections.

However, he said, in the meeting of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal the other component parties asked the Maulana to submit his nomination papers, if all the opposition parties were insisting on his name.

Mr Ahmed agreed that the opposition had virtually provided a walkover to the PTI-led ruling coalition, but blamed the PPP for the rift within the opposition parties.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2018