ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Divided over the issue of submitting resignations from the assemblies at a time when their already-announced long march is just two weeks away, the heads of the component parties of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) will hold a crucial session in Islamabad on Tuesday (tomorrow).
Sources in the opposition parties told Dawn that the hardliners in the alliance, including the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), had decided that in the meeting they would again insist on their proposal of submitting en masse resignations from the assemblies. On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the other major component of the PDM, after a series of in-house consultations and brainstorming sessions, has decided to oppose the idea at any cost.
Interestingly, both the sides are citing the outcome of the recent Senate elections in support of their arguments. The JUI-F believes that after losing the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman despite having a majority, it has become imminent for the opposition parties to come out of the assemblies. Moreover, sources said, the JUI-F leadership was of the view that the Senate polls had also proved that their move to bring a no-confidence motion against the National Assembly speaker or the prime minister would be a futile exercise.
PPP likely to oppose proposal, call for no-confidence motion against NA speaker
On the other hand, the PPP believes that the opposition has gained much ground and political space after the recent by-elections in the country, noting that the victory of Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in Senate elections caused a major dent in the ruling alliance. The PPP leaders believe that the by-polls and the Senate elections have strengthened the party position therefore the opposition should give a tough time to the government while staying in the assemblies, instead of leaving the field open for the government.
During a dinner hosted by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari for the party senators at Zardari House on Saturday, the sources said, a majority of the party members while expressing their views had also suggested that they should not resign from the assemblies.
When contacted, PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar said he had not seen any statement of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the resignations had become imminent. He, however, said the PPP believed that after the Senate election, “the possibility of resignation from the parliament has further receded”.
Mr Babar said the final decision would be made from the platform of the PDM and that his party would plead its case before the opposition leadership in the coming meeting.
On the other hand, a senior PML-N leader privy to the developments told Dawn that his party would insist on tendering resignations from the assemblies in the all-important meeting of the PDM on Tuesday.
He said PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who is in London for the last over a year for his medical treatment, had contacted former president Asif Ali Zardari by telephone and told him that long march could not achieve its results until and unless the lawmakers of the PDM components resigned en masse.
According to the PML-N leader, Mr Zardari instead suggested going for a no-confidence motion against National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser at the time when long march participants would be staging a sit-in outside the parliament. The PPP leader was quoted as claiming that the opposition had the required strength to give a shock to the government through secret voting on the no-confidence motion.
But, Mr Sharif did not agree with the suggestion and in his talk at the March 16 PDM meeting would stress on en masse resignations of the opposition lawmakers, the PML-N leader claimed.
The sources said the JUI-F and the PML-N might suggest to the PPP that they could consider resigning only from the National Assembly if the PPP was not willing to sacrifice its provincial government in Sindh.
The PDM meeting was earlier scheduled for Monday (today) but it was postponed for a day when alliance president Maulana Fazlur Rehman contacted PDM general secretary Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Saturday and asked him to put off the sitting for a day. Soon after the postponement of the meeting, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also left Islamabad for Karachi.
Sources in the PPP said Mr Bhutto-Zardari had some engagements in Hyderabad on Monday and he would be back to Islamabad on Tuesday before the PDM meeting.
The session has a heavy agenda, including the opposition’s defeat in the Senate chairman election due to ‘wrong’ stamping of their ballots by seven PDM senators and thus rejection of their votes leading to the victory of government nominee Sadiq Sanjrani on March 12.
The sources said Maulana Fazl was upset over the defeat of his party’s nominated candidate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri in the deputy chairman elections with a larger margin than Mr Gilani’s defeat at the hands of Mr Sanjrani.
Mr Sanjrani had bagged 48 votes against Mr Gilani’s 42 whereas Mr Haideri had been defeated by the government-backed Mirza Mohammad Afridi with a margin of 10 votes. Mr Afridi had secured 54 votes against Mr Haideri’s 44, clearly indicating that at least seven opposition senators had not voted for him.
The sources said the Maulana wanted the PPP and the PML-N to find out as to who had ditched the opposition alliance in the elections.
The sources said the Maulana and Mr Sharif had already taken up the matter with Mr Zardari, who had assured them of action if the PPP senators were found involved in deliberately ‘wasting’ their votes or giving their votes to the government-backed candidate.
The sources said the PDM leaders in their meeting would also look into the possibility of disclosing the names of the people in the establishment who had allegedly interfered in the Senate elections as well as during the vote of trust obtained by Prime Minister Imran Khan from the National Assembly on March 6.
The JUI-F and the PML-N leaders in their news conferences had warned the “state institutions” against interference in the elections and threatened that they would be forced to make the names of those officials public who would contact the lawmakers.
Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad, PML-N senior vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had claimed that they had the telephone numbers and the call data saved with them which could be produced as an evidence.
The PDM leadership, the sources said, had already decided to get the phone call data of the opposition senators who received calls from anonymous numbers threatening them to vote for Mr Sanjrani or face consequences.
Besides, the PDM leaders in the meeting would discuss strategies for the long march which the opposition plans to take out on March 26 and other measures for putting pressure on the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government to quit power corridors.
The PDM leaders are yet to discuss the final destination of the long march as Nawaz Sharif had proposed them to hold a sit-in in Rawalpindi, instead of Islamabad. The PPP has suggested Faizabad as the venue for the sit-in. Moreover, the PDM leaders are also yet to decide about the duration of the sit-in and its short-term objectives.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2021