Fissures erupt in opposition over Senate vote fiasco

Updated August 04, 2019

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PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto- Zardari, PML-N Shehbaz Sharif and National Party President Hasil Bizenjo address the media after a joint opposition meeting on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV screengrab
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto- Zardari, PML-N Shehbaz Sharif and National Party President Hasil Bizenjo address the media after a joint opposition meeting on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV screengrab

ISLAMABAD: The no-trust vote fiasco in the Senate has caused serious distrust between the two main opposition parties, with leaders from both Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz suspecting each other of foul play.

Read: 14 defectors save Sanjrani in anticlimactic Senate vote

The leaders of the two arch-rivals of the past in their private conversations are found accusing each other of playing a “dirty game” during the secret vote on the no-trust motion against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in which the opposition faced a defeat due to defection of its 14 legislators.

PML-N’s Khawaja Asif and PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman even made their “distrust” public by issuing statements accusing each other of damaging the opposition’s unity.

PML-N, PPP seek amendment to rules to do away with secret ballot; Bilawal calls for probe into leaked video of presiding officer

Yet the two parties have a unanimous view that there is a need for changing the rules regarding no-trust resolution against Senate chairman or deputy chairman, as PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at a press conference in Lahore announced that the party would seek amendments to the parliamentary rules and constitution to do away with the requirement of “secret ballot” during votes in the parliament. He also expressed the hope that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would back it as it was part of its manifesto.

Though both the parties have formed their fact-finding committees to identify the defectors and suggest a punitive action against them, background interviews with the members of the committees revealed that they had “very little hope” for success.

The PPP’s committee has convened its first meeting on Aug 6 in Islamabad. An official announcement by the PPP says that the “fact-finding committee” will meet on Tuesday in Islamabad to “begin investigations in whether and who among party senators defected in the secret ballot in the last week no-confidence move against the Senate chairman”.

Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani is the convener of the PPP committee, having representation from all the provinces with no sitting senator in it.

A committee member said they would discuss their terms of reference (ToR) and finalise a methodology to probe the matter that had brought embarrassment to the joint opposition.

Sources said the mistrust between the two parties had been there since the day they had submitted the no-trust motion against Mr Sanjrani last week. In one of the meetings, a PML-N senator sought a clarification from the PPP leaders over a reported meeting between former president Asif Zardari, who is in NAB custody, and a top property tycoon a night before the voting to discuss as to how the move could be thwarted. The PPP leaders, the sources said, however, had categorically refuted these reports.

Similarly, after several complaints against the PML-N senators for not turning up in the opposition meetings, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman finally had to approach leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif through former speaker Ayaz Sadiq asking him to ensure their attendance, the sources said.

Ms Rehman criticised PML-N’s Khawaja Asif over his remarks on a TV channel against PPP senators holding them responsible for the Senate debacle and terming the PPP’s move to form the fact-finding committee a ‘drama’.

She said Mr Asif had tried to destroy the opposition’s unity and asked the PML-N leadership to give an explanation over it. She said the PPP also had reservations over some parties in the opposition alliance, but did not express this in the larger interest of the opposition’s unity.

Addressing a news conference, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s close aide Jehangir Tareen and Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar had contacted PPP senators and attempted to persuade them (to vote for Mr Sanjrani).

“The senators told me about this. I have full faith in my all senators and I haven’t accepted the resignations of any of them. Propaganda is being made against them,” he said, advising the opposition parties not to indulge in the blame game.

“When it was alleged that the PML-N had cut a deal, I rejected it. Now if someone from the opposition points a finger at my senators for foul play it means he is pointing the finger at me,” he said.

In reply to a question about alleged interference of an intelligence agency in the Senate election as alleged by National Party chief Hasil Bizenjo, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “I have no such reports. However, there had been involvement of non-democratic forces in the Senate elections in the past.”

The PPP chief also sought investigation of a leaked video of the presiding officer in which he was heard saying that 54 votes had come in favour of the resolution (to remove Sanjrani). He also claimed that the PPP senators had received threats ahead of the no-trust motion.

Zulqernain Tahir from Lahore also contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2019