• Establishment warned against interference in Friday poll
• Committee tasked with finalising names of candidates for opposition leader, deputy chairman
• Moonis refutes reports Bilawal sought his party’s support
ISLAMABAD: The 10-party opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Monday formally nominated Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as its candidate for the office of the Senate chairman, but deferred its nominations for the offices of deputy chairman and the opposition leader.
Mr Gilani, who caused a major upset by defeating Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in the March 3 Senate poll on a general seat from Islamabad, will face incumbent Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, who has already been nominated as the candidate of the ruling alliance headed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), in the election for the top Senate office for which polling will be held on March 12.
Addressing a news conference after attending nearly six-hour-long meeting of the heads of the PDM component parties, the opposition leaders warned the country’s “establishment and the intelligence agencies” against interference in the upcoming election and vowed “to bring all the facts before the nation if any such attempt is made”.
PML-N’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and PPP’s Asif Zardari also participated in the meeting through video link.
Later, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman told reporters that to finalise the names for the remaining two Senate offices, the opposition parties had constituted an eight-member committee under the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senior vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The committee comprising Raja Pervez Ashraf, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini, Tahir Bizenjo, Usman Kakar, Akram Durrani and Hafiz Abdul Karim will meet in Islamabad on Tuesday (today) to ponder names.
Sources in the opposition told Dawn that the nomination of the candidate for the office of the deputy chairman was put off when smaller parties from Balochistan claimed their right to the position. At the meeting, Dr Jamalidini of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) came up with the demand.
It was on the proposal of Mr Bhutto-Zardari that the PDM leaders agreed to constitute a committee for further deliberations on the issue. The PPP chairman said since the government had also not yet nominated its deputy chairman candidate, they could also take more time to finalise the name with consensus.
Flanked by Mr Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N’s vice president Maryam Nawaz, Maulana Fazl declared that their anti-government long march would start from across the country as per plan on March 26 and would reach its “destination” on March 30. He said that to decide the modalities of the long march, including its place and duration, another meeting of the PDM leaders would be held on March 15.
On the occasion, the PPP chairman hinted that the PDM’s long march might culminate at the famous Faizabad Interchange, saying that “Faizabad is a place situated both in Rawalpindi and Islamabad”.
The sources said the PML-N supremo suggested to other parties at the meeting that the PDM should stage a sit-in in the Rawalpindi cantonment area for a symbolic protest. Mr Sharif, the sources said, was of the opinion that they should submit their resignations from the assemblies before starting the long march to make the event decisive. Mr Sharif, in his speech, regretted the use of “agencies” by the government in the Senate elections as well as the prime minister’s “controversial” trust vote in the National Assembly. He once again suggested converting the PDM into an electoral alliance and even assured the participants that if the PML-N emerged victorious in the general elections, he would leave decision to the PDM to nominate prime minister.
Maulana Fazl at the presser condemned the manhandling of the PML-N leaders by the PTI workers outside the Parliament House on March 6 when PM Imran Khan took the vote of confidence in the National Assembly.
“The PTI goons attacked the PML-N leaders when they were holding a news conference,” said the Maulana, adding that not only were the respectable PML-N leaders “insulted and humiliated,” they even disrespected Marriyum Aurangzeb.
“This is the culture the PTI leaders are inculcating among its workers,” he lamented.
The Maulana said the trust vote obtained by the “fake prime minister” had “no legal, moral and constitutional standing”, since the National Assembly session itself was unconstitutional. Under Article 91(7) of the Constitution, he said, it was the sole discretion of the president to convene the assembly session and the prime minister could not send a summary to this effect.
The PDM chief said that in the meeting they had reviewed the recent elections and noticed that the “intelligence agencies” had been used to influence the voters in an unconstitutional and illegal manner.
“The meeting condemned the interference of the intelligence agencies (in the Senate election) and warned that if they adopt the same attitude in the elections of the Senate chairman and the deputy chairman, the PDM will be forced to place the facts before the nation,” he declared.
The Maulana also criticised the government for challenging Mr Gilani’s victory before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), terming it a “foolish step”. If Mr Gilani’s election had been wrong, what bothered the prime minister to secure a fresh trust vote, he questioned.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari expressed the hope that the ECP would play its role as it did during the recently held by-elections in the country. He said they also expected that courts would not allow any “force to oust our candidate (from the Senate chairman race).”
The PPP chairman said if the elections were held in a free and fair manner then Mr Gilani would win the Senate top office. He said they wanted to see every institution to work within its domain.
PML-N’s vice president Maryam Nawaz questioned the ruling PTI’s decision to nominate its candidate for the Senate chairman office despite knowing that the opposition had a majority in the upper house of parliament. She said the government’s candidate could only win either through the use of money or the “agencies”.
The prime minister used to give lengthy lectures on the use of money in the Senate poll and the open ballot, she said, but the nation was waiting to see whether the government would also issue an ordinance seeking open vote for the Senate chairman election.
Responding to a question, the Maulana denied that there were any differences within the alliance over the nominations for the offices of the Senate deputy chairman and the opposition leader, saying they simply needed more time for brainstorming and discussions.
In response to a question, the Maulana said the issue of moving a no-confidence motion against the Punjab chief minister did not come up under discussion at the meeting.
On this occasion, Mr Bhutto-Zardari clarified that he had met PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in Lahore on Sunday only to inquire about his health. He, however, said all the options, including no-confidence motion and the resignations, were still available to them and they would use them with a consensus. He said he could not make any announcement on his own and every decision would be made from the PDM platform.
Ms Nawaz, however, said the PML-N did not want to replace another man from the ruling alliance in Punjab, saying it was the sole right of the PML-N to form government in Punjab that still had a majority in the provincial assembly.
Earlier in a tweet, PML-Quaid leader Moonis Elahi, who is son of Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, had also refuted the reports that appeared in almost all major newspapers that the PPP chairman had sought the PML-Q’s support for its candidate for the top Senate office and for the opposition-proposed no-confidence motion against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar that the PML-Q had reportedly refused.
“No such thing happened. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari did not ask for support in the Senate and nor did we offer. He came to inquire about (Chaudhry) Shujaat Sb’s health for which we are grateful,” wrote Mr Elahi on his official Twitter account which also carried an image of the front page of an English daily with the headline “Chaudhrys say ‘no’ to Bilawal”.
At the meeting, the sources said, Mr Bhutto-Zardari took the credit for the PDM’s victory in the recent by-polls and Senate election as it was upon his proposals that the other opposition parties changed their decisions to boycott the elections.
The ANP and the BNP-M representatives endorsed the PPP chairman’s claim and praised him for the strategy.
The sources said that on one occasion, PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira and JUP’s Awais Noorani had a verbal clash when the latter criticised the PPP for not supporting the Maulana during the election of the president more than two years’ back. The other leaders, however, intervened and said that there was no need to discuss the past.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2021