RESERVATIONS about the Usman Buzdar-led Punjab government’s ability to deliver and plug corruption have begun amassing and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf top leadership was contemplating to replace the `figurehead’ chief executive of the province with a “pro-active doer”, say party insiders privy to the developments.
While the opposition parties are already chiding the Punjab government for what they call its failure to deliver and ensure good governance, dissenting voices within the ruling party are also becoming louder.
Ahead of 2018 general elections, a majority of voters in Punjab had considered Imran Khan as an epitome of hope. But their hopes had been dashing with every passing day since Mr Khan took over the charge as people suffered because of bad governance and corruption in the provincial departments they had to deal with.
Recently, the air has become thick with rumours that time has come for Mr Khan to replace Usman Buzdar with some “pro-active doer” as chief executive of the population-wise biggest province of the country to control the damage already done because of weak governance by the present political administration and rampant corruption in various departments.
These ‘rumours’ are given some credibility as a bunch of PTI old guards have recently held some half-a-dozen meetings with the prime minister and reportedly convinced him to closely watch the ground realities and take a drastic decision to bring the Punjab government out of slumber, enabling it to deliver and come up to the people’s expectations. “The dream shown to them [voters] by the PTI ahead of [last] general elections should not shatter just because of weak governance,” a source claimed Mr Khan was told.
“The prime minister has also started thinking about alternatives as he seriously listened to the dissenting voices against his Wasim Akram-plus and instructed them to do some more research and apprise him of it,” a source said and added that the group that held meetings with the premier would be presenting their suggestions to him soon.
These party leaders have also been expressing their resentment before Mr Khan regarding the “dominance” of Punjab and federal cabinets by late entrants and a lesser role of those who stood alongside Imran Khan through thick and thin in the face of PML-N wrath.
The insiders say the scenario has pushed the prime minister to look for Buzdar’s replacement and he may chose from four possible contenders – all serving as ministers in Punjab government.
The top contender for the province’s chief executive slot is said to be Senior Minister Abdul Aleem Khan, who also holds food portfolio. He is considered a true party face, who struggled and led the PTI to the launching pad. Aleem has also served as PTI’s Lahore president and he enjoys mass following within the party.
However, different forces have been trying to discredit Aleem for facing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigations for “living beyond means”. In his defence, he had been arguing that being a businessman he could be implicated in a tax evasion case or being a provincial minister (in the PML-Q government till Nov 2007) could be accused of corruption, if it was necessary to snare him. But, leveling accusations of ‘living beyond resources’ against a man running a huge business concern was incomprehensible, he has been quoted as arguing.
He has also been claiming that all his off-shore companies are declared assets. “If there are no proofs against him, NAB is only holding an inquiry,” he has been saying.
Punjab finance minister Hashim Jawan Bakht is among the contenders and has to his credit presentation of two Punjab budgets. He is foreign qualified, having a grip on bureaucracy as far as his own department is concerned. However, the recent sugar inquiry commission is being seen as a blot on his candidature for province’s top slot.
Punjab industries minister Mian Aslam Iqbal is another ambitious candidate for Punjab chief minister’s office. He has been trying to woo the prime minister while working on the initiatives like setting up of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and industrial estates in the province. He is politically active and always wins his seat from his home constituency in Lahore.
Mr Iqbal, however, is said to be too close to media tycoon Mian Amer Mahmood, who has also close ties with the Nawaz Sharif family through Mian Munir. “If Mian Aslam becomes chief minister, then actually Mian Amer will be ruling in the province in due consultation with the Sharif family,” claimed a senior parliamentarian privy to the developments.
Punjab irrigation minister Mohsin Leghari is also a contender for the slot. He is a good orator and can speak with authentic data to convince even his opponents. He is, however, considered “professor-type” and lacking ablility to run the hardcore government affairs. His party colleagues complain that he is not even able to have full control of his own ministry.
Some insiders also include Punjab Assembly Public Accounts Committee-II chairman Syed Yawar Abbas Bukhari among the candidates only for being a cousin of Zulfi Bukhari, who is considered to be a member of PM Khan’s “kitchen cabinet”. He made his maiden appearance on the media at a press conference to explain the performance of PAC-II.
Mr Yawar Bukhari’s cousin Zulfi Bukhari was also seen lobbying with the disgruntled MPAs in Punjab as he assured them that their genuine demands for funds for development works in their respective constituencies would be met soon. However, Zulfi Bukhari had outright denied that his cousin was in the race for Punjab’s top slot.
However, those close to developments say the change may take a few months as such decisions are always taken after taking all stakeholders, including state agencies, on board. Some parliamentarians are of the view that it may not be an easy task to get vote of confidence in Punjab Assembly for the “new” chief minister. They argue that even Mr Buzdar was elected with just one vote more than the required number, in spite of all PTI MPAs and allied parties backing him. However, insiders argue it won’t matter when all stakeholders decide to bring in-house change in Punjab. They believe that if Imran Khan could convince PTI members to back Buzdar, he could also make them vote for the new candidate.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020