Punjab braces for ‘change’ at the top

Published March 29, 2022
ISLAMABAD: ‘Man of the hour’ Chaudhry Parvez Elahi meets Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team on Monday.—Dawn
ISLAMABAD: ‘Man of the hour’ Chaudhry Parvez Elahi meets Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team on Monday.—Dawn

• After guarding his ‘bishop’ for so long, PM finally forced to ‘sacrifice’ Buzdar
• Elahi could find ‘saving Imran’ difficult; ‘Q’ inroads in Punjab may help his cause

LAHORE: Just minutes after the joint opposition’s no-confidence motion was moved in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Imran Khan played his ‘trump card’ by luring PML-Q Punjab president Chaudhry Parvez Elahi to his side with the much-sought after Punjab’s chief ministership.

This single offer has helped PM Khan not only protect his party’s rule in Punjab from his arch-rivals, the PML-N and PPP, but also field the PML-Q to collaborate with other allied parties and disgruntled MNAs to save Imran Khan in the National Assembly.

Just a day ago, the ruling PTI appeared to be losing the political battle. PM Khan concluded his long speech at the Parade Ground on Sunday, alleging hatching of an international conspiracy against his government and some elements in Pakistan being used against him through foreign funding.

Editorial: PM Imran's speech indicates he has come to terms with the likely outcome of the no-trust move

The surprising sacrifice of Usman Buzdar as the chief minister — whom the PM continued to protect through thick and thin and called him ‘Wasim Akram Plus’ — as the clock started ticking for voting on the no-confidence motion against the premier, is being seen as the right move. Still many politicians believe this ‘trump card’ has been revealed quite late, leaving little time for PM Khan to manoeuvre and keep his position intact.

“Seeking Buzdar’s resignation at the eleventh hour is a move a little too late because Mr Khan’s new confidant, Parvez Elahi, has been left with very little time to campaign and persuade the PTI’s disgruntled elements as well as the allied parties, who publicly parted ways with the ruling coalition,” a senior PTI leader said.

“If Mr Khan had made this smart move some two weeks ago, Parvez Elahi had all the guts and skills to persuade and bring back more than the required disgruntled MNAs into the ruling coalition fold,” he added.

Even when there was no clear commitment between the PTI and the PML-Q, Mr Elahi had told a government team, comprising Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, visiting his residence that they should placate the allied parties, BAP and MQM, by fulfilling all commitments made with them instead of hoodwinking them and offering mere ‘lollipops’. For the PML-Q’s support, Elahi had asked the delegation to make a public announcement of his candidature for the Punjab chief minister.

Since Elahi has only seven days till the final vote count in the National Assembly against the prime minister, PM Khan is banking on his nominee to help him defeat the opposition on the D-Day of no-confidence motion – expected on April 4. Mr Elahi immediately got down to work as he led a high-powered delegation to meet the MQM-P leaders at Parliament Lodges.

Playing in relatively uncertain conditions, a political observer said, Mr Elahi might face a difficulty in saving Imran Khan, but he would be able to make strong inroads in Punjab and enjoy the remaining tenure for himself as well as win a big slice of the pie in the next general elections.

While the PML-Q camp is happy to get the lucrative offer from the government, some in the Chaudhry family are not happy with going with the PTI, and their discussions over the issue continued till late in the night. The family members celebrating are looking at Mr Elahi’s election in the Punjab Assembly as early as possible. Sources say Elahi also contacted Jehangir Tareen in the UK and sought his group’s support for his election as the CM. If the Tareen group — comprising around 18 MPAs — decides to put its weight behind the opposition, it wouldn’t be an easy sailing for Elahi, the sources added.

On the Punjab front, Mr Elahi’s nomination as the chief minister has dashed the hopes of the joint opposition — PML-N and PPP — of getting the no-confidence motion against Usman Buzdar passed in the provincial assembly, and left them no room to elect a CM of their own. The opposition was exceedingly confident of dislodging the PTI government in Punjab, as it was boasting of having many more votes than the 186 needed to remove the chief minister.

Mr Elahi already enjoys strong relations with several MPAs — from the PML-N, PTI and the Tareen group — to protect his position in Punjab. He seems unfazed about his election as the chief minister as he knows could muster the support of more than the required MPAs just like he did during his election as the assembly speaker.

“The Chaudhrys of Gujrat enjoy a certain stature and strength to bring many politicians around them on just one call,” senior politicians in Punjab believe.

In the Punjab Assembly, the PTI has 183 MPAs on its side and PML-Q carries 10 votes. The opposition PML-N has 161 votes and PPP seven. The Rah-i-Haq Party has one vote and there are four independents now after a fifth, Jugnu Mohsin, joined the PML-N recently.

The prime minister’s offer of the chief minister’s office to the PML-Q has other connotations as well, believe PTI members. They say Mr Elahi would not only try to crush the PML-N, but may also strengthen his party enough in the next one-and-a-half years to even shatter the PTI in the province. Since many politicians were brought into the PTI fold from various parties ahead of the 2018 general elections, they could be returning to where they had come from, including Law Minister Basharat Raja and Chaudhry Zaheeruddin back to the PML-Q, for the next elections.

Though PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari continued pushing PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif to offer the Punjab chief ministership to Parvez Elahi to secure his election as the prime minister, but a dispute within the Sharif family did not allow him to make the bold decision.

Several days after Shehbaz had visited the Chaudhrys at their Lahore residence, PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had claimed to have posed some questions to the PML-N president but never got a response.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2022

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