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ISLAMABAD: The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has said the mode of anti-government protest will be decided by the combined opposition at a multi-party conference (MPC) to be held after Eid, and if they conclude that the removal of the government is in the interest of the nation, they will go for it.

“The joint opposition will look after the interests of the public. If the public interest is in toppling of the government, then it will be removed. If elections are beneficial for the people, we will make its demand,” said PML-N vice president and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi while responding to queries of reporters during a media briefing after a meeting of the senior party members and office-bearers at the Parliament House here on Monday.

PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb, former deputy speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, MNA Javed Latif and former MNA Tallal Chaudhry were present during the media briefing.

‘Respect vote’ still party’s narrative, says Abbasi; party finalises budget proposals

Mr Abbasi, however, made it clear that dislodging of the government was not their main target, explaining that the opposition parties were not uniting for personal benefits or to acquire power, but to safeguard the interests of the general masses and to make efforts to bring the country out of the crises.

Responding to a question, Mr Abbasi said the mode of anti-government protest would be decided by them at the proposed MPC. He said they had constituted a committee to formulate a party strategy for the MPC.

He said the party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif was “a political prisoner”, adding that “he (Nawaz Sharif) is in jail not because of corruption, but because of his political narrative”.

“Respect vote” was PML-N’s narrative yesterday as well as today, he said, adding: “This is the narrative of PML-N and every Pakistani.”

In response to a question, Mr Abbasi said Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and party president Shahbaz Sharif would return to Pakistan at the time of the presentation of the federal budget.

Mr Abbasi lashed out at National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal for giving a “political interview” to a journalist. He said the NAB chairman had no moral or legal justification for whatever he had stated in the interview.

“If the NAB chairman wants to do politics, then [he should] come to the political field,” the ex-PM said, adding that the bureau had already been “exposed” before the nation. He said the opposition was ready to face accountability, but presently they were being politically victimised through NAB. He once again called for abolishing “black NAB laws”.

Budget proposals

Mr Abbasi said that at the party meeting they discussed the prevailing economic situation in the country and decided to present “an alternative strategy” in order to protect the country from “this government’s anti-public policies”.

He said the party had finalised some “demands”, which the government should accommodate in the upcoming budget.

Presenting the demands, he said that in light of the rising inflation, minimum wage should be increased from Rs16,000 to Rs20,000; tariff for power and gas and prices of fertilisers be reverted to that of May 31, 2018 as the increase in prices is not justified; prices of petrol and diesel be brought down to an affordable level; no new taxes should be introduced and current tax rates should not be increased.

Mr Abbasi said there were suspicions regarding the International Monetary Fund conditions and asked the government to come forward with the conditions set by the IMF.

He expressed concern over the decision of the State Bank of Pakistan to increase interest rate by 1.5 per cent, saying that this decision would worsen the economic conditions.

“In any other country, if the rate increases even by 0.1pc, it becomes part of a public debate,” he said, regretting that the rate had been increased even before the presentation of the budget and signing of the deal with the IMF.

The PML-N’s meeting was also attended by Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. This was her first meeting after her appointment as party’s vice president.

Speaking to the media after the meeting, Maryam refuted reports about differences between the Sharif brothers, saying that Mr Shahbaz considered his elder brother as his leader. She said the party narrative of Vote ko izzat do (respect vote) had not changed.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019