KARACHI: With its top leadership in jail, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is willing to take all-out measures to save its government in Sindh, even if it requires the sacrifice of incumbent chief minister Murad Ali Shah, sources said on Saturday.
Mr Shah has been facing a corruption probe being conducted by the National Accountability Bureau in connection with his alleged involvement in the fake bank accounts and money laundering case that may lead to his arrest.
The PPP is currently not only taking measures to pacify its disgruntled lawmakers by awarding some of them lucrative ministries in the latest cabinet reshuffle but also engaging itself with the powers that be to assure them that it doesn’t want confrontation and that opposing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government or NAB doesn’t mean opposing them.
The sources said that the party did not expect any immediate relief for its co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur — both of them are in NAB custody — but at present its entire focus was on avoiding threats to its government in Sindh, where it has been in power for the past 11 years.
“Certain quarters are not happy with Murad Ali Shah. PPP got enough chances to replace him but [PPP chairman] Bilawal [Bhutto-Zardari] stood behind him,” a source said, adding: “It seems they are ready now to sacrifice him [the CM] to save their government, but apparently the establishment is not interested.”
NAB action against CM
The sources said that PPP feared an imminent action by NAB against the CM and, therefore, Sindh minister Saeed Ghani said earlier this week that any action against the chief minister would be considered “vindictive” and part of the government’s “selective” accountability drive.
While Mr Ghani had told reporters in Hyderabad that the party leadership was not engaged in any discussion on alternative names for chief minister’s office at present, the sources said that the party did finalise a plan in case of any eventuality and the name of a minister from Sukkur is in circulation as his possible successor.
Opposition waiting for Murad’s arrest since it’s promised that it would set party’s downfall in motion
On the other hand, the opposition parties in Sindh are desperately waiting for the arrest of Mr Shah since they are promised that it would set PPP’s downfall in motion.
But legally, the PPP government cannot fall even after Mr Shah’s arrest as he can continue to be the chief executive of the province while in NAB’s custody or as an under-trial prisoner.
Many opposition leaders also acknowledge this legal aspect in their background conversations with Dawn. However, they insisted that if arrested, it would be Mr Shah’s “moral and ethical” responsibility to resign from his office.
Opposition awaiting miracle
Even if the incumbent CM got arrested and resigned, it is next to impossible for the opposition to constitutionally change the PPP-led provincial government which enjoys a clear majority in the 168-member house and can get its chief minister elected easily.
In the Sindh Assembly, the PPP is having 99 lawmakers followed by opposition PTI 30; MQM-P 21) Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) 14; Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) three and Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) one.
The above-mentioned party position clearly indicates that even if all opposition parties got united — their combined strength is 69 — they would still be short of 16 lawmakers to form a simple majority, which is 85 lawmakers, in the house.
But, the opposition leaders, whom Dawn spoke to, are convinced that a “miracle” like the recent outcome of an opposition-sponsored no-trust move against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani can happen before the end of the current year.
They claimed that the PPP already knew that many of its lawmakers were unhappy “with the corruption and bad governance” in the province as they could not deliver in their constituencies.
Forward bloc in PPP?
The opposition leaders said that the entire PPP leadership had been saying that there was no forward bloc in Sindh. “Why are they anxiously denying a thing which they think does not exist,” asked an opposition leader.
The PPP leadership has been rejecting these reports on the ground that every member is well aware of the fact that he/she would be disqualified under Article 63-A of the Constitution if he/she acted against the directive of the ‘party head’.
But a senior member of the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan said that Sindh was being ruled by the PPP-Parliamentarians (PPPP) whose president is Asif Ali Zardari.
He pointed out that the PPP had been taking part in elections from the PPPP platform since 2002 with ‘arrow’ as its election symbol. Mr Zardari was the ‘party leader’ in the record of the Election Commission of Pakistan and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was the ‘party leader’ of the PPP whose symbol is ‘sword’, he added.
“Since Mr Zardari got arrested and is in the custody of NAB, it is quite clear that he cannot effectively lead the PPPP, from prison. So PPP lawmaker, if needed, can form a group to decide about their party head, vote for, or against, anyone on their own,” he said, adding that Article 63-A would not be applied on such members.
However, he agreed that a change in Sindh could not take place without the interventions of powers that be since opposition itself was not united and the four TLP and MMA lawmakers had been supporting the PPP while sitting on opposition benches.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019