ISLAMABAD: The opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Tuesday nominated Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) secretary general Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri as its candidate for Senate deputy chairman and decided that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would retain the key office of the leader of the opposition in the new upper house of parliament.
“It has been decided that the office of the Senate deputy chairman will go to the JUI-F and the opposition leader will be from the PML-N,” said PDM’s information secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain in a statement after attending a meeting of the special committee that had been constituted by the PDM leadership on Monday.
Shortly after the announcement by Mr Hussain, a JUI-F spokesman Aslam Ghauri said the party leadership had nominated Maulana Haideri as the joint opposition candidate for the deputy chairman office. The ruling alliance headed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is yet to finalise its candidate for the deputy chairman office whereas it has already declared that incumbent chairman Sadiq Sanjrani will again be its candidate for the top Senate office.
Sources in the ruling party said that the names of PTI’s chief organiser Saifullah Nyazee and Ijaz Chaudhry were doing the rounds within the party circles for Senate deputy chairman’s post.
PML-N to retain opposition leader’s office
The PDM leadership on Monday had formally nominated Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as its candidate for the office of the Senate chairman, but constituted an eight-member committee under PDM’s general secretary Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to decide about the offices of the deputy chairman and the opposition leader in the new Senate.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in a statement congratulated Mr Haideri over his nomination. While the PPP will be the largest party on the opposition benches in the new Senate with 20 members, the party has been asked by the other PDM component parties to withdraw from its claim over the opposition leader’s office as a bargain over nomination of Mr Gilani as the candidate for the Senate chairman office.
“(PDM) President and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has approved Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri’s name for deputy chairman,” Mr Ghauri said.
The JUI-F spokesman hoped that the PDM-backed candidates would succeed in the upcoming elections for the top Senate offices, polling for which will be held on Friday.
Maulana Haideri, who has been nominated because of his Balochistan origin, had previously served as the deputy chairman of the Senate from 2015 to 2018 when PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani was the chairman.
In an apparent reference to the statement made by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak in a lighter vein in the presence of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and Maulana Haideri that the government had offered the deputy chairman office to the JUI-F secretary general, the party spokesman said those who wanted to create a chaos within the PDM would fail.
Talking informally to reporters with Maulana Haideri and Mr Sanjrani after a meeting, Minister Khattak said they had invited the JUI-F leader to come and be the deputy Senate chairman. The meeting took place before Maulana Haideri’s official nomination by the PDM committee.
At the time, Maulana Haideri said he had come to meet the Senate chairman as a matter of routine. Later, he reportedly condemned the defence minister’s remarks before the media, explaining the issue had not come under discussion at all in the meeting. He said an offer by a government, which the opposition did not recognise, was “meaningless”.
Meanwhile, sources in the PPP, said there had been some resentment within the ranks of the party over the committee’s decision and some of the party members believed that it should not have surrendered their claim over the opposition leader’s slot.
They are of the opinion that the opposition will have to contest for the offices of the chairman and the deputy chairman and it is unsure whether it will secure them or not, but the office of the opposition leader will definitely be with the PDM because of the PTI-led coalition government by virtue of its majority in the National Assembly.
When contacted, PDM secretary general Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, heading the committee that took the decision about the deputy chairman and the opposition leader offices, claimed that the decision had been made with a consensus and PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf was also present in the meeting.
In response to a question, Mr Abbasi said there was no possibility of reviewing the issue as the decision had been made with the consensus of all member parties of the PDM.
Asked as to who would be the PML-N’s nominee for the opposition leader’s slot, Mr Abbasi said they had not yet decided about it. He said they had sufficient time to decide about the party’s nominee since the leader of the opposition would be appointed after the elections for the Senate chairman and the deputy chairman on March 12.
The PML-N presently has 17 senators, excluding former finance minister Ishaq Dar, who has been living in London in self-exile and has not taken oath as senator since his election in 2018. Since current opposition leader Raja Zafarul Haq has not contested the Senate election this time, a new leader of the opposition will have to be found. Before the Senate poll, there were reports in the media that the PML-N planned to nominate Pervez Rashid for the Senate chairman office. But he could not reach the Senate after his disqualification for being a defaulter of the Punjab House, where he had been staying for many years allegedly without paying the room rent.
Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that Sadia Abbasi, the sister of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Musaddiq Malik, could be the choice of the party leadership for the opposition leader’s slot for being articulated and aggressive politics. However, they said, a final decision in this regard would be made by PML-N’s supremo Nawaz Sharif.
Meanwhile, PML-N’s vice-president Maryam Nawaz on Tuesday hosted a high-tea reception for party senators in Islamabad. Similarly, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari attended a dinner hosted by Sherry Rehman for party senators at the nearby Islamabad Club.
Independent Senator from the county’s tribal areas Shamim Afridi formally joined the PPP on this occasion.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani also hosted a dinner for all the senators, but sources said the opposition parties did not attend it.
The PTI has so far not announced its candidate for the office of deputy chairman, keeping the slot open and placing itself in a better bargaining position to ensure the support of its allies and independent candidates.
Presiding over a meeting of his spokespersons on Monday, the prime minister said the chairman’s post would be won by his party despite the opposition’s majority in the upper house.
Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2021