• PM’s aide warns of using ‘legal options’ if Nawaz’s speech is aired by TV channels
• Maryam suggests telecast through live streaming on social media
• PML-N, PPP said to be opposed to holding indefinite sit-in
ISLAMABAD: The stage is set for a much-hyped gathering of the opposition leaders at the PPP-hosted multiparty conference (MPC) aimed at devising a strategy to oust the PTI-led coalition government.
The MPC being held at a five-star hotel on Sunday (today) has become all the more significant with the announcement that supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif will address its participants via video link from London, marking his political comeback after more than a year.
Besides Mr Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari also plans to deliver an opening speech through video link as he will not be able to physically attend the event due to his poor health condition.
Mr Sharif, who has been living in London for medical treatment and who has been declared a proclaimed offender by an accountability court earlier this month in the Toshakhana vehicles reference with the court directive to the National Accountability Bureau to make his arrest through Interpol, had agreed to address the MPC after PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari talked to him over telephone on Friday and extended a formal invitation.
Responding to the opposition’s announcement regarding Mr Sharif’s address to the MPC, a number of government ministers and advisers declared that a “proclaimed offender and a convicted person” could not address a political gathering and also warned of “legal action” if television channels aired his speech.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill on Saturday through his social media account on Twitter said “the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and other legal options” would be used if Nawaz Sharif addressed the MPC and if his speech was aired by TV channels.
“How is it possible that a fugitive carries out political activities and gives speeches? The Sharif clan can only spew lies. They are such big liars that they also lie about [their] medical conditions,” tweeted Mr Gill.
On the other hand, the PML-N criticised the government’s planned move to black out the speeches of Mr Sharif and his daughter and the party’s vice-president Maryam Nawaz through a tweet suggested that his “speech should be telecast through live streaming on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so that it can’t be blocked in the country”.
Ms Nawaz has already arrived in Islamabad from Lahore for participation in the MPC and she will be part of the 11-member PML-N delegation under party president Shahbaz Sharif. The PML-N on Saturday officially announced the names of its leaders who would represent the party in the MPC. The party delegation will comprise Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Ayaz Sadiq, Pervaiz Rasheed, Maryam Nawaz, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Ameer Maqam and Marriyum Aurangzeb.
Meanwhile, as host of the MPC, Mr Bhutto-Zardari spent a busy day on Saturday holding a PPP meeting to discuss the agenda and arrangements for the event besides talking to the heads of other opposition parties. He also visited the residence of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to discuss the possible agenda of the opposition’s moot. Before that, the PPP chairman talked over telephone to the presidents of two factions of the Balochistan National Party, Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Israrullah Zehri, Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao and National Party leader Dr Abdul Malik.
Talking to Dawn, PPP vice president Sherry Rehman said that heads and representatives of 12 opposition parties would be attending the MPC. She said initially the conference was to be held at Zardari House but due to the size of the gathering and to ensure social distancing in the wake of Covid-19, they had finally decided to arrange the conference at the hotel.
“We will make a final decision in tomorrow’s MPC against the actions of this government,” announced PPP Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira at a press conference at Zardari House after attending a party meeting.
Responding to a question, Mr Kaira dispelled the impression in some political and journalistic circles that the PPP was not in favour of launching a full-fledged movement against the PTI government as it did not want to sacrifice its own provincial government in Sindh.
“This is a wrong impression that the PPP is not making any decision to save its Sindh government,” he said.
“We have also arrived at the conclusion that this government must go. We have not previously decided to send this government packing and tried to correct it… but now we believe that this government must go before the current challenges become irreversible,” he said.
A divided house
Political analysts believe that opening speeches of Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari will set the tone of the MPC which will be participated by the opposition leaders having divided opinion on the future strategy against the government.
They say there are hawkish elements in almost all the parties who want to launch a full-fledged street agitation against the government even at the cost of their seats in the parliament. On the other hand, there are some saner elements, especially in the PPP and the PML-N, who are against this idea as they fear that “undemocratic forces” can take advantage of the situation.
Sources told Dawn that the PPP and the PML-N were against the idea of holding an indefinite sit-in like the PTI and the JUI-F had done in the past and which had failed to bring any result. They said the leaders of the two major opposition parties had conveyed this to the JUI-F leadership which wanted to go all out against the government.
Speaking at a news conference, Federal minister for Information Shibli Faraz and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Shahzad Akbar claimed that the opposition’s MPC posed no threat to the government.
“This MPC simply means accused plus convicts. They have met in the past several times with zero result and are bound to fail this time as well,” Mr Faraz said.
He said the timing of the MPC made it clear that the opposition leaders were worried about the recent amendments to the anti-money laundering law. He said their sole mission was to save their leaders who were involved in money laundering.
He criticised Nawaz Sharif’s plan to address the MPC and said a proclaimed offender had no moral justification for it.
He alleged that the opposition wanted to create anarchy in the country while the government continued with its efforts for socio-economic development.
Mr Akbar said it was an established law that no convict or proclaimed offender could address political gatherings. He said under verdicts of the court and declarations of Pemra, TV channels and other media were also barred from airing the same.
Commenting on the government’s warning against airing of Mr Sharif’s speech, renowned lawyer Salman Akram Raja termed it against the spirit of Article 19 of the Constitution, which guaranteed fundamental right of freedom of expression.
Advocate of the Supreme Court Kashif Ali Malik said Pemra had amended its regulations last year and banned airing of convicts and under-trial prisoners. He, however, said since Pemra regulations were subordinate legislation, it could not override the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
According to him, Article 19 only imposes certain restrictions related to the glory of Islam, security of Pakistan and relations with the friendly countries and these restrictions have nothing to do with the coverage of a convict or under trial prisoner.
Malik Asad also contributed to the report
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020