• PTI sees development as ‘first step towards deal’
• Decision fuels resentment within PML-N circles
• PPP voices concern over decision
ISLAMABAD: In a surprise move, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif has quit chairmanship of the all-powerful parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a position he had secured after prolonged wrangling between the government and the opposition parties in December last year.
The decision was announced by PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb through a statement after a joint meeting of the party’s parliamentary groups in the National Assembly and the Senate at the Parliament House here on Thursday. The meeting was presided over by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who announced these decisions in the meeting.
PML-N MNA from Sheikhupura and former minister Rana Tanveer Hussain has been nominated to replace Mr Sharif, who has been in London on a private visit for the last month. He had gone to London after he was granted bail in various cases and his name was removed from the Exit Control List on the orders of the Lahore High Court.
The party will soon inform National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser in writing about its decision to nominate Mr Hussain as the PAC chairman.
The PML-N has also nominated its firebrand MNA from Sialkot and former foreign minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif as the party’s parliamentary leader in the assembly. This position had also been previously held by Mr Sharif.
The PML-N’s sudden decision has given rise to speculation and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has alleged that Mr Sharif would not return to the country as he was evading ongoing inquiries against him in corruption cases.
When contacted, Ms Aurangzeb refuted such speculation and the PTI’s allegation and claimed that Mr Sharif would be back in the country before the announcement of the federal budget. She said that Mr Sharif had extended his stay in London on medical grounds as his doctors had suggested some more tests. She said Mr Sharif’s annual medical check-up had become due when he was in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau.
Asked about the reason behind Mr Sharif’s decision to step down from PAC chairmanship, she claimed that the PML-N president wanted to quit this position even before his departure to London.
Ms Aurangzeb said Mr Sharif was “never keen” to become PAC chairman and had accepted the position only on the insistence of the joint opposition and the parliamentary advisory group.
She said when the PML-N members informed Mr Sharif about these decisions, he asked them to consult the party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif as well. “It was after Nawaz Sharif’s approval that they have announced these decisions today,” she said.
The PML-N spokesperson said the members of the other opposition parties had been expressing concern over non-convening of the PAC meetings and had demanded that Mr Sharif should nominate someone else if he was not available to preside over the committee meetings.
She claimed that Mr Sharif wanted to see Khwaja Asif as PAC chairman and Rana Tanveer as the parliamentary leader. However, in the party meetings it was decided that Mr Asif would be more effective as the parliamentary leader in the assembly than the PAC chairman due to his “aggressive style” of delivering speeches.
She said the need for appointing a parliamentary leader was also felt during the last few sittings of the assembly when the speaker did not give floor to Mr Asif though he kept on asking for it. Ms Aurangzeb said when they protested with the speaker, he told them that he could give floor only to the parliamentary leaders of the parties.
Meanwhile, sources in the PML-N told Dawn that there was resentment within some circles in the party over these decisions of the leadership and a group in the party believed that it would be difficult for them to give “justification” for this move. Besides, according to the sources, some party members are also unhappy over Mr Sharif’s decision to extend his stay in London, saying that it can damage the party.
The sources said that Khwaja Saad Rafique, another firebrand party leader, and Mian Javed Latif had expressed concern over the leadership’s failure to lead the party from the front inside the parliament. They said it was Mr Latif who had called for a formal appointment of the party’s parliamentary leader in one of the meetings of the parliamentary groups.
Meanwhile, talking to reporters after the PML-N meeting, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reportedly said the PML-N had already taken the other opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party, in confidence over the decisions.
Shahbaz Sharif had been elected PAC chairman unopposed on December 22 last year after Prime Minister Imran Khan finally surrendered before the opposition’s demand in the wake of their threats to withdraw from the all the National Assembly committees.
Though there is no restriction on the government in the rules to give PAC chairmanship to opposition parties, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition that the office is given to an opposition member to ensure transparency in financial affairs.
The PTI government was reluctant to give chairmanship of this vital parliamentary committee to the opposition leader contrary to the traditional practice as the prime minister was unwilling to offer the position to Mr Sharif because he was facing corruption charges.
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 opposition should become chairman of this committee.
Reacting to the development, a number of PTI members claimed that Shahbaz Sharif would not return to the country as he was facing corruption charges and that Nawaz Sharif was also planning to leave the country.
Special Assistant to the PM on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan, talking to different TV channels, said if Mr Sharif wanted to return, “he will not appoint someone even as a chowkidar (guard) outside his home.”
“They [Sharifs] divide these positions within the family. If they have started appointing people outside the family, it indicates this is the first step towards a deal,” she said.
Federal Communications Minister Murad Saeed in a statement alleged that Mr Sharif was trying to “hide” in London. He alleged that the Sharifs had failed to provide money trails and now their main focus was on finding ways to run away from the country.
Pakistan Peoples Party, the other key opposition party, said the PML-N had not consulted it before this important decision.
PPP information secretary Nafeesa Shah in a statement said her party had concerns over this move of the PML-N.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2019