ISLAMABAD: In a development that took the two main component parties in the opposition PDM further apart, former prime minister and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani was on Friday declared as opposition leader in the Senate.
A notification issued by the Senate Secretariat states that in pursuance of Rule 16 (3) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate 2012, the chairman has been pleased to declare Senator Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, with effect from March 26.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) criticised the PPP for getting “covert support from the treasury benches” and warned that those betraying the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s objectives would have to pay a heavy price.
“Gilani was worthy of respect but it was expected from him to take the PDM into confidence without whose votes he could never have been elected as a senator, instead of taking a unilateral step. Instead, he found the senators of the BAP (Balochistan Awami Party) to be more trustworthy,” PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal regretted in a tweet.
Former premier hopeful PDM will remain intact
Mr Gilani, who was in a straight contest with PML-N candidate Azam Nazeer Tarar, secured the seat with the support of 30 ‘opposition’ senators. These included 21 members from the PPP, two from the Awami National Party, one from the Jamaat-i-Islami, two independents from erstwhile Fata (Hidayatulla and Hilalur Rahman) and four from the independent group of Dilawar Khan, who had been supporting the PML-N in the past. Other members of the group include Kaira Babar, Naseebullah Ullah Bazai and Ahmad Khan.
Mr Tarar had submitted his nomination papers with signatures of 17 members, all from the PML-N. He also had the support of five senators belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and two each from the National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.
The PPP had filed the request for the post of Senate opposition leader amid differences among other component parties of the PDM, with both the PML-N and PPP claiming their right to the key office.
The PML-N argued that the decision about the opposition leader had been taken by a PDM committee and it had nothing to do with the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman.
The PPP admitted that it had earlier agreed to give the office of opposition leader to the PML-N, but insisted that the situation had changed after Mr Gilani’s defeat in the Senate chairman election.
A senior PPP leader told Dawn that former president Asif Ali Zardari had in a telephonic conversation with Ishaq Dar two days ago voiced concern over naming a person who was representing the police officials responsible for hosing down the place where Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated, but the PML-N leader said it was a settled issue and any more talks on this were not possible.
“Their attitude is very strange. We do not want to provoke differences within the PDM, but they appear to be hell bent on widening the divide,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference after having been notified as the new opposition leader in the Senate, Mr Gilani expressed his desire to see the PDM intact and said his success was a success of the opposition alliance.
Accompanied by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and former Senate chairman and PPP secretary general Syed Nayyer Hussain Bukhari, he said: “We want PDM to be intact to struggle against price hike, poverty and unemployment and for supremacy of the Constitution. I was the first unanimously elected prime minister of Pakistan and I assure PDM that we will remain together. I will continue to fight for the rights of the people as the opposition leader in the Senate.”
Mr 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.”
The former premier said it had always been the PPP’s stance that no parliamentary option should be left unchallenged, 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 other parties in the PDM, he said his party had completed all preparations for the anti-government long march and sit-in on March 26, but in the latest PDM meeting a view emerged 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.
Mr Gilani said PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf had been tasked with presenting the party’s viewpoint regarding the Senate opposition leader in a meeting of the PDM’s 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 he had already been nominated by the PDM, could not be “compromised”.
But, he added, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari believed that the opposition leader’s position should be held by the PPP for being the largest opposition party in the Senate. Under the same formula, Mr Gilani said, the PML-N was given the offices of the opposition leader and Public Accounts Committee chairperson in the National Assembly.
According to Mr Gilani, PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari then contacted various PDM leaders on 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 had agreed to vote for him. “This way, we got 30 votes and they made me the leader of the opposition.”
Mr Gilani said that in the eyes of the public, technically, he had already won the Senate chairmanship. “.....but today I was named the leader of the opposition.”
He said the PDM saw a “ceasefire” over the last few days and during conversations among the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F leaders, it was decided that the opposition 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 [of PML-N] said that a majority has been formed after taking people from BAP (Balochistan Awami Party). I am telling you, there are two people from Fata. 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.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2021