PPP's Yousuf Raza Gilani was declared as leader of the opposition in the upper house of parliament on Friday, according to a notification issued by the Senate Secretariat.
Gilani, a former prime minister, had recently been elected to the Senate after a highly contentious poll, in which he defeated the ruling PTI’s candidate, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh.
He had subsequently contested the election for the Senate chairman's post as a candidate of the 10-party opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which he lost to the PTI-backed Sanjrani after seven of his votes were rejected by the presiding officer.
The opposition had immediately challenged the result of the election but were overruled by the presiding officer who said the votes had been rejected because they were not stamped correctly.
Later, the Islamabad High Court also threw out a petition by Gilani that challenged results of the Senate chairman election, noting that proceedings of the upper house of parliament were "immune from the interference" of the high court.
Earlier on Friday, Gilani, along with Senator Sherry Rehman, had reached the Parliament House and met Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, to whom the nomination papers were submitted.
Rehman said that the application had been filed with signatures from a total of 30 senators – 21 from the PPP, two from the Awami National Party, one from the Jamaat-i-Islami, two from members belonging to Fata and four from the independent group of Dilawar Khan.
PPP sources identified Senators Hidayatullah Khan, Hilal-ur-Rehman, Mushtaq Ahmed and Nawabzada Arbab Umar Farooq as some of the names who had signed the agreement.
Rehman rubbished claims that the nomination signified the "funeral" of the PDM, adding that "this is the right of the PPP, we have 21 members."
PML-N, PPP at odds
The issue of the Senate opposition leader has created disagreements in the ranks of the opposition alliance with both the PML-N and PPP publicly claiming their right to the key office.
The PML-N maintains that the decision that the opposition leader in the Senate would be from the PML-N had been taken by a PDM committee and it had nothing to do with the outcome of the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman.
The PPP, meanwhile, admits that it had previously agreed to giving the office of the opposition leader to the PML-N in return for nomination of Gilani for the office of Senate chairman. But the situation changed after Gilani's defeat, it adds.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari insists the PPP has a right to nominate the leader of the opposition since it is the political party, among the opposition, which enjoys a majority in the Senate.
According to a Dawn report published today, behind-the-scenes negotiations were under way in the PDM to resolve differences between the PPP and PML-N on the issue of the new opposition leader in the upper house of parliament.
The deadline for Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to nominate someone to the post will expire on Saturday.
Sources in the two parties told Dawn that both the parties were busy in finding a middle path to settle the dispute amicably.
On Thursday, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman talked to Bilawal. Although the official handout issued by the PPP said the two leaders “discussed the prevailing political situation”, the sources said the opposition leader’s issue had also come under discussion between the two leaders.
According to the sources, the PML-N has already submitted an application to the Senate Secretariat, nominating Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar as the opposition leader.
The nomination of Tarar carries signatures of 17 PML-N members whereas the five senators of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and two members each of the National Party (NP) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) had also assured their support in line with the decision taken by the PDM.
PPP did not want to 'compromise' Senate chairman election: Gilani
Addressing a press conference later in the day, Gilani said the PPP had convinced the PDM to contest the Senate elections and the recent by-polls after the legal experts it consulted gave the opinion that the Senate elections would take place even if the opposition resigned from the assemblies. "The benefit was that whatever by-elections the PDM contested, it won," he added.
The former premier said it had always been the PPP's stance that the election process should not be quit, emphasising that "the voice of parliament is the voice of the people of Pakistan and we should not ignore it."
Talking about the differences that emerged between the PPP and the rest of the PDM, Gilani said his party had completed all preparations for the opposition long march and sit-in on March 26, but in the latest PDM meeting, a view came forward that the long march would be of no benefit without resignations.
"It was a new thing for us and because of it, there was some ... not misunderstanding [but] difference of opinion. It is the spirit of democracy, when you agree to disagree it is democracy," he added.
He said the PDM subsequently allowed the PPP to discuss this "new scenario" in its Central Executive Committee (CEC).
Gilani said PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf had been tasked with presenting the party's viewpoint regarding the Senate leader of the opposition in a meeting of the PDM steering committee, but he had not insisted on the position being given to the PPP at the time so that the Senate chairman election, for which Gilani had already been nominated by the PDM, would not be "compromised".
But he said PPP Chairman Bilawal believed that the opposition leader's position should be held by the PPP being the largest opposition party in the Senate. Under the same formula, Gilani said, the PML-N was given the offices of the opposition leader and Public Accounts Committee chairperson in the National Assembly.
According to Gilani, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari then contacted various PDM leaders regarding the issue, but they refused the proposal for the opposition leader's office to be given to the PPP, saying a decision in this regard had already been taken.
"In that situation, many parties contacted us saying that it was our right [to hold the opposition leader's office] ... and told Zardari sahib that we are ready to vote for you," he said, adding that in subsequent negotiations, the JI, ANP, two Fata members and Dilawar Khan's group agreed to vote for him.
"This way, we got 30 votes and they made me the leader of the opposition. In the eyes of the public, technically, I have already won the Senate chairmanship. [...] But today I was named the leader of the opposition."
Gilani said the PDM saw a "ceasefire" in the last few days and during conversations between the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F leadership, it was decided that the opposition alliance would be "kept intact" and statements would not be issued against each other.
"So we expected there would not be criticism from the other side. Today, a senior office-bearer said that a majority has been formed after taking people from the BAP (Balochistan Awami Party). I am telling you, there are two people from Fata, they have nothing to do with BAP. Dilawar sahib has had contact with the PML-N. He has a group of four independent people. So calling it a 'government opposition' is not appropriate and we should refrain from saying this to keep the PDM intact," he said.
The PPP leader said his party "seriously" wanted the PDM to remain united and work towards its agenda of raising awareness about constitutional, human and economic rights, and inflation.
"I want to reassure the PDM that we are united and we will go forward together, and there should be no misconceptions because of one reason. I will take the opposition forward with me," he said, adding that he would meet all the leaders of the PDM and take them into confidence