• Ahsan says they won’t act in haste, will make more efforts to woo allies
• Minister warns ‘set-up may be wrapped up’ if govt goes, willing to talk to opposition

LAHORE: The opposition parties seem to be struggling to achieve the required numbers to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, as the nine-party alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the PPP on Saturday agreed to accelerate their efforts to negotiate with the ruling party’s allies on more ‘solid terms’ before announcing a date for tabling the no-confidence motion.

While some elements in the opposition camp, especially within the PML-N, want the motion to be tabled in parliament without the allies since they believe they have the required number of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNAs on their side, the top leadership of PML-N, PPP and JUI-F agreed to galvanise the support of the government allies, especially the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, for its plan. Consequently, the PDM is going to offer them a better package.

“The opposition parties have unanimously decided to evolve a broad-based consensus taking the government allies onboard before moving ahead with the no-trust move against Prime Minister Imran Khan. The PDM and PPP leadership has decided not to show haste in tabling the motion and put in more effort to woo the allies, apprising them of the ground reality regarding the PTI’s popularity among the masses and working out other post-polls modalities with them,” PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn on Saturday.

He claimed although that the opposition had the required numbers to oust the premier, they were of the view that they must not give up on the allies. “The allies know that they cannot win the next election if they remain with Imran Khan’s PTI whose popularity is at its lowest ebb. In such a scenario, the allies have kept their options open and we have a strong impression they will finally join us to remain relevant in future politics,” the former interior minister said.

He also claimed the entire opposition had reached a consensus over snap polls. “Fresh polls are no longer a sticking point among the opposition parties. The PDM and PPP leadership has agreed on it and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has also announced there will be fresh polls after sending Imran Khan home,” he maintained.

When asked whether PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif would be the interim prime minister as proposed by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Mr Iqbal said: “This matter is yet to be settled. Once the joint opposition topples the PTI government in the Centre, it will appoint an interim premier with mutual consultation.”

Shehbaz had recently expressed disinterest in the interim premier’s position. When asked whether the opposition parties were considering tabling a no-trust motion against National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser first as he could use his powers to sabotage the move against PM Khan, Mr Iqbal said: “We are targeting the premier first and our legal minds are making sure that the speaker does not create any illegal hurdles.”

Meanwhile, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman spoke to PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif over the phone on Saturday and discussed the progress in preparations for a no-confidence move. Similarly, Shehbaz also held a meeting with the party’s senior members at his Model Town residence and sought details about their contacts with PTI lawmakers and allies.

Interestingly, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz has been keeping a low profile since the opposition picked up momentum in its drive against the premier.

PPP senior leader Khursheed Shah told the media in Islamabad on Saturday the no-trust motion would be tabled in parliament after his party’s long march reached Islamabad.

Mr Shah claimed around 13 PTI MNAs were unwilling to carry the “burden of Imran Khan’s failures”, indicating that they would vote for the opposition.

Mood in PML-Q, Tareen camps

The PML-Q and PTI’s disgruntled stalwart Jehangir Tareen are playing their cards with utmost care amid the emerging political scenario.

The PML-Q has empowered Chaudhry Parvez Elahi to make a decision regarding the opposition’s proposals. The opposition has been trying its best to remove the years-long trust deficit between the Sharifs and the Chaudhrys.

On the other hand, Mr Tareen is in London for medical treatment. He is reportedly stable and will speak to the lawmakers who support him via a video link in a couple of days to discuss their strategy. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Saturday dismissed speculation in the media that Mr Tareen was returning early next week.

Tareen claims to have the backing of some 10 MNAs and over two dozen MPAs from Punjab.

Interior minister’s warning

Meanwhile, apparently sensing the opposition may succeed in its efforts to oust PM Khan, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid sounded a warning that the entire “set-up might be wrapped up” if the opposition tried to topple the government.

Talking to a news channel on Saturday, the minister claimed the government was willing to talk to the opposition about holding the next general elections six months ahead of the schedule. “However, the set-up may be wrapped up if the opposition tries to send the premier home (through the no-confidence move),” he said.

When asked if he was referring to martial law, Mr Rashid said a military takeover wouldn’t be needed to end this whole (political) spectacle. He further claimed three to five opposition MNAs might support the government if the no-confidence move was tabled.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2022

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