LAHORE: As two members of the Punjab Assembly from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Sunday confirmed having met the prime minister, the opposition party warned the ‘turncoats’ that they would have to resign before shifting loyalties while some PTI ministers claimed that more ‘defections’ would surface in near future.
Naeemul Haq, special assistant to the prime minister, had in a tweet on Saturday evening, claimed that 15 PML-N MPAs accompanying the Punjab chief minister held a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the latter’s residence in Islamabad.
He won’t disclose names of these MPAs, though the identity of some of the ‘deserters’ were doing the rounds on social media.
Mr Haque said these PML-N MPAs expressed their full confidence in the PM and Punjab CM Usman Buzdar.
Those who visited the PM say they discussed with the prime minister development projects of their constituencies.
The acknowledgement endorses the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s claim that fissures had developed in the PML-N, though some PML-N leaders admit the presence of a disgruntled group of legislators in its ranks even before the 2018 Senate polls.
PTI ministers see more ‘defections’
Other legislators named in the group who met Imran Khan, however, came up with denials on Sunday.
MPA Jaleel Sharaqpuri from PP-139, Sheikhupura district, confirmed that he had called on the prime minister to get resolved problems of his constituents.
Maulana Ghayasuddin from PP-47, Narowal district, endorsed the statement, saying no one else accompanied him and Mr Sharaqpuri during the visit. He also cited “discussing development issues of my constituency” as the purpose of his meeting with the PM.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid claimed in a media talk on Sunday that a group of nine MNAs belonging to the PML-N were ready to shift their loyalties and would soon meet Prime Minister Khan. Federal Science Minister Fawad Chaudhry endorsed the view in a tweet, saying it’s just the beginning and the next group of members to call on the PM would include senators and MNAs.
Younas Ansari, brother of MPA Ashraf Ansari who was stated to be in the group who met the PM, claimed that he (Ashraf) had led the delegation of the parliamentarians. But, Mr Ashraf denied, forcing Mr Younas to say his brother was not part of the delegation.
The rest of the delegation members also denied the meeting’s reports or deserting the party when their names appeared in the media.
MNA Riaz Pirzada, MPAs Rana Mehmoodul Haq (PP-141, Sheikhupura) and Ataur Rehman (PP-210, Khanewal) released videos to deny the meeting reports, while others did so in press statements.
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz Sharif attached MNA Pirzada’s video in her tweet and said these attempts show desperation and panic in the government camp to cover up its failures.
Political observers say it appears that either the ruling PTI has played the bluff or the ‘turncoats’ are not yet ready to take on public pressure on changing loyalties.
“Such outbursts show nothing but utter desperation & panic in the Jaali govt’s camp, won’t provide a cover-up for the glaring failures & end in a naught IA. To take criticism is not everyone’s forte. Not at all of those whose govt & office rest on STOLEN MANDATE #Selected”.
A senior PML-N official, however, admitted the presence of a group of dissidents ever since the party fell out with the powers that matter.
Requesting not to be named, the official pointed out that this group of 15 to 20 MPAs had during the Senate polls held in March 2018 voted against the party policy paving the way for PTI’s Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, now Punjab governor, to become senator. The same group, he said, had later also supported Chaudhry Pervez Elahi in the election for the office of Punjab Assembly’s speaker.
Punjab chapter president of the PML-N Rana Sanaullah Khan denies defections in the party and warns that turncoats will have to resign as MPAs for changing loyalties otherwise PML-N activists will besiege their homes.
He said those who ‘bought’ allies through funds’ offers worth Rs15 billion, a reference to the development funds given to BNP-Mengal group in Balochistan, were now seeking to buy loyalties of opposition members.
Information secretary Azma Zahid Bukhari played down the defections. She said MPAs usually don’t have concerns with larger national political issues but mostly concerned to constituency-related problems.
She doesn’t believe in numbers as in her personal opinion a small but committed quality content (cadre) is better than a large but with ‘ready to sell’ loyalties group.
She challenges PM Khan’s talk of high moral grounds the other day and then “indulging in horse-trading”, and terms it a mismatch between words and actions. She also threatens a “tit for tat” reaction, meaning making inroads into the PTI, if the ruling party doesn’t check its ‘horse-trading’ practice.
Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar argues that no member of parliament from the opposition parties needs to tender resignation for a meeting with the prime minister because there is no bar on the members to see the premier after developing differences with policies of their party.
Answering a question, the governor says it is true that if an MP joins another party without tendering resignation, then he can be disqualified under the Constitution but there is no bar in the law and the Constitution in meeting anyone.
Declining to comment about formation of a forward bloc in the PML-N, he says the PML-N itself knows how many of its parliamentarians have differences with the leadership over policies.
“The difference of opinion is the beauty of political parties and if PML-N MPAs are not satisfied with party policies and think policies of Imran Khan can pull the country out of crises and put it on the road to progress, then there is no harm if they call on the premier,” he explained.
“When there are problems in the country, then ultimately disappointment comes in the public. But despite that people have faith in the leadership of Imran Khan and are not ready to come on roads on the call of opposition parties,” he said.
Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2019