Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Hussain Rizvi, who was recently released from jail after nearly seven months in detention, foresees his party as a "kingmaker" in the 2023 general elections, saying that its vote bank will likely get a massive boost in Punjab and Sindh, provided that the polls are held in a free and fair manner.
In an exclusive interview with Newsweek Pakistan, Rizvi said: "No opposition will be able to function and no party will be able to make government without the support of the TLP,” as he went on to claim that his party's vote banks in Punjab and Sindh had experienced a massive boost since the last general elections.
“The TLP enjoys good support in both provinces and its vote bank has increased manifold compared to last elections,” he told the magazine.
When asked about other political parties approaching him following his release and the chances of the TLP forming electoral alliances with them, Rizvi said they were ready to talk to all parties. However, he added, a final decision on the matter would be taken after taking into consideration ground realities ahead of the elections.
To another question about women joining his party, Rizvi said they were willing to giving as much as 50 per cent representation to women in the TLP.
“We will not only encourage women to join the party on reserved seats, we plan to bring them on general seats as well,” he said.
Rizvi's comments come less than a month after his release from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail on November 18 in the aftermath of an agreement with the government. The agreement had come following days of protest by his party workers, who also clashed with police, and were marching towards the capital. The details of the agreement were not made public.
Police had arrested Rizvi on April 12 as a "pre-emptive measure", ahead of planned protests by the TLP as the party's April 20 deadline for the implementation of the its demands — including the expulsion the French ambassador, severing ties with France and boycotting French products over blasphemous sketches of Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) — neared. The next day, police had registered a first information report (FIR) against the TLP chief under sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997.
His name was later placed on the Fourth Schedule — a list of proscribed individuals who are suspected of terrorism or sectarianism under the ATA — on April 16.
Rizvi's arrest had led to three days of violent protests across the country, following which a ban was placed on the party under the anti-terror law. This episode of the protest had reached a climax when Lahore became a battleground as TLP workers and policemen clashed, with the former taking 11 policemen hostage, who were released when the government and the TLP began talks.
However, the protest was called off on April 20, following a second round of talks between the government and the TLP, with Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid announcing that the government would present a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador in the National Assembly (NA) on the day.
A session of the NA was then called the same day during which a resolution was tabled to discuss and decide on the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan. But since then, the assembly has not taken up the matter again.
However, at that time, Prime Minister Imran Khan had made it clear that the government had no intention of lifting a ban on the TLP.
Read: What does the TLP want?
The TLP had then launched another round of protest in October, with scores of TLP workers taking to the streets in Lahore. They had later announced a "long march" towards Islamabad, which is when the situation turned violent as party workers clashed with law enforcers. Deaths of at least five policemen were reported in the riots.
Meanwhile, TLP protesters marching on the capital were stopped at Wazirabad, where they had camped until the then-proscribed group and the government had reached a deal, the details of which have not been revealed till now.
Negotiations between the TLP and government had started on October 30, with the members of the negotiating team from the government side claiming the next day that they had reached an "agreement".
However, sources had told Dawn at the time that the TLP was assured that the government would not pursue minor cases against the TLP leadership and workers, but the cases registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act would be decided by courts. It also assured the TLP leadership that it would unfreeze the accounts and assets of the proscribed outfit and take steps to lift the ban on it.
Following that, scores of arrested TLP workers were released from jail and its proscribed status was revoked, which automatically removed around 8,000 TLP activists from the Fourth Schedule. A notification for the revocation of the ban on the TLP was issued by the Ministry of Interior on November 7.
Rizvi, in particular, had been released after the withdrawal of a reference filed in the Supreme Court's federal review board regarding his detention and the removal of his name from the Fourth Schedule on November 11.
Speaking at a rally in Lahore on the occasion of his father and the TLP's founder, Khadim Hussain Rizvi's death anniversary three days after his release, Rizvi had urged people to vote for his party in the next general elections.