• PTI MPA tenders resignation; party claims lawmaker offered Rs400m
• Three opposition lawmakers claim Atta Tarar offered Rs250m each to abstain from voting; Tarar denies horse trading allegations
• Shujaat reiterates support for cousin Elahi as party candidate for Punjab top office
• Imran alleges Zardari indulging in repeat of Sindh House horse trading ‘with looted wealth’

LAHORE: The PML-N and PPP have intensified their efforts to inflict a surprising defeat on former premier Imran Khan in Punjab by making at least 10 opposition MPAs switch their loyalties for the survival of the Hamza Shehbaz-led government in the province.

In this scenario, the PTI-PML-Q MPAs from south Punjab have come under the spotlight once again amid reports of attempts to purchase lawmakers’ loyalties for hefty amounts ahead of the contest between PML-N’s Hamza and the PTI-PML-Q’s Chaudhry Parvez Elahi on Friday. Earlier, out of the 25 PTI lawmakers who defected in the favour of Hamza and were de-seated, eight belonged to the southern part of the province.

The ruling PML-N-PPP alliance on Wednesday managed to create the first dent in the PTI ranks, as an opposition MPA tendered his resignation to Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari. The PTI leadership reacted swiftly and alleged that MPA Chaudhry Masood Ahmed from Rahim Yar Khan’s loyalty had been purchased for a whopping Rs400 million. Moreover, PTI workers holding lotas in their hands reached the residence of the MPA and chanted slogans against the PML-N and PPP leadership.

“Ahmed’s resignation is just the beginning. More birds from the PTI camp will fly out and by the time the CM’s election takes place on Friday, the PTI-PML-Q alliance may not have the required strength in the assembly to install its chief minister,” a PML-N insider told Dawn.

He said since the leadership of the nine-party ruling coalition, especially PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, unanimously put their weight behind Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a huddle in Lahore on Tuesday in making ‘concrete efforts and exploring all possible ways’ to save his son Hamza’s office of the Punjab chief minister from Parvez Elahi, efforts to woo at least 10 PTI lawmakers had been intensified.

“Using all its resources, the ruling alliance will manage to get the required opposition MPAs on its side. The rulers believe since they had paid the price for taking harsh economic decisions in the form of a crushing defeat in the Punjab by-polls, they are ready to go to any extent to maintain their rule in the province. Their position will be completely compromised if they are reduced to Islamabad only,” the insider said.

On the other hand, Punjab Home Minister Attaullah Tarar has said: “In the number game in the Punjab Assembly, we are seven votes behind the PTI alliance. Politics is an art of possibilities and any surprise may come in the chief minister’s election (on Friday).”

Speaking at a press conference in Lahore, Tarar refuted the allegations of ‘buying over’ the PTI MPA against Rs400m. He claimed Mr Ahmed had resigned on April 3 for being dissatisfied with the PTI government in Punjab.

“I swear on the holy Quran that no money was offered to Ahmed,” he maintained, terming PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry’s allegation baseless. He questioned whether PML-N MPA Jalil Sharaqpuri was also bribed for resigning from the Punjab Assembly, while saying his party could take back Sharaqpuri if he decided to return.

Meanwhile, the Ghazanfar Abbas Chheena group of the PTI that had been under the party’s watch filed an affidavit with the leadership on Wednesday, saying three MPAs – Mr Chheena, Shahabuddin and Amir Inayat from south Punjab – had been approached by Atta Tarar and offered Rs250m each to abstain from voting for Mr Elahi in the CM election. Tarar denied the allegation.

As Asif Zardari extended his stay in Lahore after attending the coalition government’s meeting in Model Town on Tuesday, speculations were rife that he was using his ‘political connections’ to help the Sharifs poach PTI MPAs. Sources believe PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif had ‘endorsed’ the coalition’s move to save the PML-N’s Punjab government by causing further defections within the PTI.

The Punjab Assembly currently stands at 369 members: the PTI has 178 lawmakers and its ally PML-Q 10. The PML-N has 167 members in the house, while its coalition partners PPP seven, five independents and one Rah-i-Haq Party. Disgruntled PML-N stalwart, MPA Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has reportedly refused to cast his vote in favour of either candidate for the CM’s post. Two seats fell vacant following resignations of PML-N MPAs – Jalil Sharaqpuri and Faisal Niazi – days before the recent by-polls in which the PTI grabbed 15 of the 20 seats.

As per the Supreme Court’s directions, a candidate for the CM office needs the support of a majority of lawmakers present during the voting session on Friday.

Former federal minister Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q said that in the parliamentary party meeting of the PML-N and its allies, 144 members were present. “Instead of keeping an eye on the PTI and PML-Q MPAs, the police and Intelligence Bureau should be tasked with taking care of the ruling coalition’s lawmakers,” Moonis suggested in a tweet.

Moreover, dispelling the reports that Mr Zardari was making efforts to convince Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to ask his party MPAs not to support Elahi, the PML-Q president reiterated his support for his cousin as the party’s candidate for the top office of the province. “I do not need to clarify. The solution to the country’s problems lies in not getting involved in cycles of counting [votes],” he said in a statement while referring to the election for the chief minister.

Imran furious over ‘attempts to buy MPAs’

Ousted premier and PTI chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday castigated the ruling coalition for its alleged horse trading. “Today, Lahore is seeing a repeat of the Sindh House horse trading that happened in Islamabad with up to Rs50 crores being offered to buy MPAs. The main architect behind this is Asif Zardari who gets NRO for his corruption & purchases people with looted wealth. He should be jailed,” Mr Khan said in a series of tweets.

He further said: “After Fed govt toppled with stolen money from Sindh & NRO2 achieved, Certified Criminal Asif Zardari in cahoots with Sharif mafia now seeking to steal Punjab ppl’s mandate by trying to purchase MPAs. Want to ask Honourable SC are they not cognisant of the damage being wrecked? Isn’t the destruction of our democracy, Constitution & nation’s morality a fit case for Suo Moto action? Are the ‘Neutrals’ not realising how our beloved country is literally being destroyed on all fronts by the Imported govt brought in through US regime change conspiracy?”

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a private TV channel that if the incoming (PTI-PML-Q) government in Punjab imposed a ban on his entry to the province, he would bar PTI leaders from entering Islamabad, and no one would be able to go to Banigala (the residence of Imran Khan). PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry had hinted at banning Sanaullah and Tarar in Punjab after coming to power in the province.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2022

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