• PML-N, PPP to contact ‘disgruntled’ PTI MPAs to preempt dissolution
• Imran meets PA speaker instead of scheduled meeting with Elahi
• Party leader hints ‘all is not well’ in PTI-PML-Q relationship

LAHORE: As the major opposition parties in Punjab accelerated their efforts to save the provincial assembly from dissolution, a meeting between the Punjab Assembly speaker and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman has raised eyebrows since Imran Khan was originally scheduled to meet Pervaiz Elahi on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the opposition in Punjab — the PML-N and PPP — agreed to establish contacts with ‘disgruntled’ PTI lawmakers to preempt the ruling party’s move to dissolve the Punjab Assembly. The same day, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and PPP senior leader Asif Ali Zardari also met for the second time in eight days and discussed ways to prevent the possible political crisis in the province.

The much-awaited and scheduled meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and PTI chief Imran Khan could not take place on Tuesday, even though the former had returned to the city in the afternoon after briefly attending the army’s change of command ceremony in Rawalpindi in the morning.

Instead, PA Speaker Sibtain Khan went to see Imran Khan, giving rise to speculation that he carried a message from the CM counselling restraint and not to rush into dissolving the provincial assembly.

In Rawalpindi, CM Elahi witnessed the ceremony and congratulated Gen Syed Asim Munir on assuming the post of the army chief, and expressed good wishes for him. A statement issued on Tuesday said Elahi later met PTI leader Parvez Khattak at Punjab House, Islamabad and deliberated upon the rules of procedure of the assembly and had a detailed review of all technical aspects regarding the legislature.

On Monday, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry had said Mr Elahi would meet Mr Khan in the run up to finalising a date for dissolution of the Punjab Assembly. However, the CM’s son, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi, denied the meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.

“It has now been fixed for Thursday,” Moonis told Dawn.

“If the meeting does not take place on Wednesday also, it will only reinforce rumours that all is not well between the coalition partners on the dissolution matter,” claimed a PTI insider.

Talking to the media after the meeting, the PA speaker claimed the opposition could not move a no-confidence motion and there were “zero chances” of the imposition of governor’s rule also. He added that even if the motion was tabled, the opposition would need 186 members to have it passed. He also said that when a speaker summons an assembly session, the governor cannot interfere.

Further, the speaker said no backdoor contacts were under way between the government and the PTI.

Within the party, Tuesday’s scheduled meeting between Imran and Elahi carried much weight. Both leaders were in the city, at least since the afternoon. Political tea leaf readers also deem the Punjab Assembly speaker’s dash to Zaman Park “unusual”.

Meanwhile, Mian Aslam Iqbal, senior provincial minister and an important PTI leader, tried to lay any speculation to rest when he told a private TV channel that the Elahi-Khan meeting would now take place on Thursday. However, he did not explain why it did not happen on Tuesday.

On the other hand, talking to a TV channel, PML-Q leader Kamil Ali Agha hinted that all was not “perfect” between his party and the PTI, especially on the issue of outgoing army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“We are two different parties, and do not have to necessarily agree on everything. The Q-League has its own preferences when it comes to dealing with the army. We respect the institution and will continue doing so. No one should misread this preference,” he insisted.

Opposition overtures

On the other side of the political aisle, PPP Punjab parliamentary leader Hasan Murtaza called on Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader Hamza Shehbaz at the PML-N office in Model Town here and discussed ways to deal with PTI chief Imran Khan’s proposed plan to have the provincial assembly dissolved.

Hamza reportedly told Murtaza that the PML-N had a few options to stall the dissolution and that both opposition parties needed to try to win over ‘disgruntled’ PTI lawmakers.

The two leaders also discussed the options previously proposed during the PML-N’s parliamentary party meeting, including tabling a no-trust move against Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, imposition of governor’s rule, the governor seeking a vote of confidence from the CM, requesting the apex court to take up Hamza’s review petition on the Punjab CM election case etc.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Murtaza questioned if the PTI had any plausible reason to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies.

PM’s Special Assistant Attaullah Tarar, who was also present in the meeting, told Dawn the PML-N and PPP had agreed to establish contacts with PTI’s supposedly disgruntled MPAs.

“There are many PTI lawmakers who think dissolution of the assembly is not in the best interest of their party. Both the opposition parties will separately approach these MPAs to win over their support,” he said.

Mr Tarar further claimed: “We are told that Imran Khan has been advised by some of his party leaders that it will not be wise to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies as party members will lose whatever protection they enjoy in the two provinces.”

He further claimed the opposition’s preparations to foil the PTI’s proposed plan to dissolve the Punjab Assembly were complete. “If the PTI does decide to dissolve the assembly, we may first use the option of seeking a vote of confidence from the chief minister,” Tarar commented.

Mr Tarar further said the opposition had decided to challenge in court the suspension of 18 MPAs by the Punjab Assembly speaker in the wake of the option of moving a no-trust motion against the CM in the Punjab Assembly.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022

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