The PML-N's joint parliamentary party on Thursday decided to nominate Rana Tanvir as the new head of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), after party president Shahbaz Sharif stepped down from the position.
According to a statement released by PML-N media cell, Shahbaz "was never keen to become PAC chairman and only accepted the position on the insistence of joint opposition and parliamentary advisory group".
Although no reasons were initially given as to why he stepped down, PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi while appearing on DawnNewsTV show News Wise said the decision was taken after Shahbaz "felt that he could not give the [requisite] time and do justice with this office".
The party, as per the procedure, will now have to write a letter to the National Assembly speaker regarding the change. The speaker's office will then issue a notification about the appointment of the new PAC chairman.
It is pertinent to mention that Shahbaz was elected as PAC chairman five months after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came to power as the ruling party was reluctant to give chairmanship of this vital parliamentary committee to the opposition leader contrary to the traditional practice. The PML-N had refused to nominate another member from the party to head the PAC, arguing that according to parliamentary tradition, the leader of the opposition should become chairman of this committee.
Eventually, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had announced in the National Assembly that Prime Minister Imran Khan would not stand in the way of Shahbaz, if he wanted to head the PAC.
Talking to the media after the meeting on Thursday, former prime minister Abbasi said that "the PML-N has [already] taken PPP and the rest of the opposition parties in confidence over Tanvir's appointment".
The party also decided to appoint former defence minister Khawaja Asif as PML-N's parliamentary leader in the National Assembly. Abbasi made the announcement and said that Asif's appointment as the parliamentary leader was made in accordance with Shahbaz's wishes.
'Shahbaz still Leader of the Opposition'
Party Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, however, rejected reports that Shahbaz Sharif has also relinquished the role of the Leader of the Opposition. Terming the reports as "baseless and mere rumours", Aurangzeb maintained that Shahbaz continues to hold the position, adding that "the joint opposition, under his leadership, will keep on playing its role in exposing the government's inability and inefficiency".
PML-N Senator Kulsoom Parveen, on the other hand, said that "if Shahbaz is facing health issues then opposition leader might also change". She added that "opposition leader should be a person who can stand up and talk in the Assembly".
"Only a strong person can speak about people's problems in the parliament. Not everyone is capable of doing that," she said.
"Shahbaz Sharif is facing cases and health issues and he has his own reservations. Khawaja Asif can speak openly in the Assembly," she added.
The PML-N's media cell elaborated that "Shahbaz made the decision [to relinquish the PAC and parliamentary leader's roles] after consultation with party supremo Nawaz Sharif".
Asif and Tanvir were nominated for the positions of parliamentary leader and PAC chairman respectively by Nawaz, the statement added. The parliamentary party accepted both the nominations.
After the meeting, Asif thanked Nawaz and Shahbaz for "trusting me", adding that he will fulfill his responsibility [to the best of his ability].
He said that the roles of PAC chairman, opposition leader and party's parliamentary leader previously rested with Shahbaz but were now being "separated" so that the party can work more "efficiently".
PPP not on board on 'one-sided' decision on PAC chairmanship: Marri
PPP MNA Shazia Marri, meanwhile, said that the PML-N's decision to replace PAC chairman was "one-sided" and that "the PPP was not taken into confidence over Tanvir's nomination."
"We are surprised at the decision," she said. "Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was present in the parliament. He was not informed and neither were the PAC members."
Marri also recalled how her party "had cooperated to have Shahbaz appointed as the PAC chair", adding that "the PPP has conveyed its reservations over the development to the PML-N".
Will Shahbaz return?
Shahbaz had announced a "quick visit" to London on April 9 after his name was removed from the no-fly list on Lahore High Court orders. Party sources had said that he intended to return within 10-12 days.
Asif on Thursday said that Shahbaz had to stay in London due to "medical and family issues" but added that the PML-N president will attend the budget session — which has yet to be called — in the National Assembly.
Abbasi meanwhile said Shahbaz would likely return to the country in "7-10 days".
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan on the other hand, told Geo News that the PML-N president intended to stay in London.
"If he wanted to return from London, he [Shahbaz] would not even appoint someone as a chowkidar [guard] outside his home," Geo News quoted her as saying. "They [Sharifs] divide these positions within the family. If they have started appointing people outside the family to these positions, it indicates this is the first step towards an NRO."
Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry took to Twitter to ask "who would take responsibility" for Shahbaz's departure.
"I had already said earlier that Shahbaz Sharif will not return. Now who will take responsibility for his departure like this?" he asked. "A few people whose hearts have softened towards the opposition should pay back the country from their own pockets. Decisions like these have hurt the trust of the entire nation. People will grab our collars if we fail to hold people accountable."
A day earlier, Prime Minister Imran had reiterated that no NRO-like concessional deal would be given to former rulers. He said opposition leaders, who were responsible for worries of the common man and economic crisis in the country, were making a hue and cry to get a NRO-like concessional deal.
“I will never give NRO to those who have plundered national wealth and put the country under the burden of Rs24,000 billion debt in 10 years,” the prime minister had said.
'Establishment within the party'
Meanwhile, PML-N veterans Khawaja Saad Rafique and Javed Latif criticised the party for "not sticking to Nawaz Sharif's narrative".
During the parliamentary meeting, Latif said that "there is an establishment within the party" and warned that those members [who belong to that group] "should not be given important positions". He warned that anyone who "strays from Nawaz Sharif's narrative will be finished".
Rafique also criticised the party for "not being able to raise its voice" against the "so-called accountability" process. He said that the party was ignoring the workers who had "given sacrifices". Referring to Hanif Abbasi — who has been sentenced to life imprisonment — Rafique said that the party had not treated him fairly.
Additional reporting by Amir Wasim.