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LAHORE: Like in the election of the Punjab Asse­mbly speaker, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on Tuesday again faced embarrassment when some 16 of its MPAs indirectly benefited the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf candidate in the presidential poll, giving credence to reports that a ‘silent forward bloc’ exists in its ranks.

A total of 18 votes were rejected — 16 of the PML-N and one each of the PTI and Pakistan Peoples Party — in the presidential election in the Punjab Assembly.

“The MPAs whose ballots have been rejected deliberately wasted them to keep the vote count of PML-N-backed candidate Maulana Fazlur Rehman low to benefit PTI’s Dr Arif Alvi,” a PML-N insider told Dawn.

He said the party suspected that the lawmakers in question were those who had voted for PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi in the election of the Punjab Assembly speaker. He said that earlier the party leadership had not put up a serious effort to trace ‘suspects’.

Mr Elahi had bagged 201 votes for the slot of speaker — 15 more than the PTI and PML-Q strength in the house.

Interestingly, Usman Buz­dar could get 186 of the PTI and PML-Q votes to become the chief minister of Punjab, sho­wing that it was Mr Elahi who caused fissures in the PML-N.

After Arif Alvi’s meeting with Pervaiz Elahi in Lahore before the poll, the former had requested him to secure votes for him like he had done for himself.

“It is believed that those close to Mr Elahi in the PML-N chose to discard their votes to indirectly benefit Mr Alvi,” the insider said, adding that the PML-N leadership seemed to be helpless in the face of Mr Elahi’s move.

Requesting anonymity, a senior PML-M lawmaker told Dawn that there were some voices in the party to unmask those who violated party discipline in the election of the speaker, but the leadership rejected this demand. “Even in yesterday’s parliamentary meeting, the participants were strictly directed to vote for the PML-N-backed candidate in the presidential election.

“But I must highlight the genius of the man who came up with a strategy different from the speaker’s poll, making 16 PML-N lawmakers discard their votes instead of voting for Mr Alvi,” he said, disclosing that those whose votes were rejected had made “signatures or circles”, showing it was a deliberate act on their part. He said now time had come that the PML-N leadership exposed ‘disloyal MPAs’ before their number increa­sed with the passage of time.

Before the polling, PML-N’s former spokesman MPA Malik Mohammad Ahmed had claimed that “none of the PML-N voters would violate party line”.

PML-N’s outspoken MPA Uzma Bokhari told Dawn that it was alarming that such a large number of party lawmakers’ votes were rejected. “We have concerns about it,” she said and parried questions about the existence of a forward bloc of at least 16 lawmakers in the PML-N.

Talking to reporters after casting his vote, acting governor and speaker Pervaiz Elahi said he was not in favour of carving out a forward bloc in any party. “I am against forward bloc politics,” he added.

The voting in the Punjab Assembly was held smoothly under presiding officer La­hore High Court Chief Justice Mohammad Yawar Ali.

In the House of 371, there were 354 valid voters. As many as 351 MPAs cast their votes. Two PML-N MPAs, Ali Abbas and Chaudhry Arshad Javed, and PML-Q’s Bisma Chaudhry could not reach the assembly to cast their votes.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2018