LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Days after a show-cause notice was issued to Parvez Elahi for expressing his desire to pursue a merger with the PTI, the PML-Q faction led by Mr Elahi removed Shujaat Hussain, whose bloc is a part of the ruling coalition, from the post of the party president and “elected” Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain as the Q-League chief.

The move prompted a press conference from the Shujaat-led camp which termed the decision to strip the veteran politician of party office “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.

In a meeting of the Central General Council held at the PML House in the provincial capital, Senator Kamil Ali Agha was elected as the central secretary-general, replacing Tariq Bashir Cheema — a federal minister and aide to Mr Shujaat. The general council also re-elected Chaudhry Parvez Elahi as the Punjab president, while former provincial minister Bao Rizwan was appointed the Punjab general secretary.

The unprecedented step came after Shujaat Hussain suspended the basic membership of Mr Elahi over his statement about the party’s merger with the PTI following an offer by Imran Khan.

Cheema rejects ‘unconstitutional’ move, says general council meeting will decide ‘who’s boss’

Mr Elahi was also served a show-cause notice by Shujaat Hussain asking him to explain why he stated that he would merge the party with the PTI. The notice stated that Mr Elahi did not have the authority to merge the party with PTI.

Soon after the “elections” to replace the top leadership, former chief minister Parvez Elahi spoke to the party leaders and disclosed that “a couple of party leaders close to Imran Khan wanted that the assemblies should be dissolved immediately” in spite of his opposition. He said PTI leaders Fawad Chaudhry, Mian Aslam Iqbal, and Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed persuaded Imran Khan to dissolve assemblies and “actually hand over power to the PML-N”.

Being a chief minister, Mr Elahi said that he approved development projects worth Rs21 billion for the constituencies of Mian Aslam Iqbal and Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed. While commenting on Fawad Chaudhry’s arrest, he said, “Had he [Fawad Chaudhry] been arrested a month ago, the PTI and PML-Q would have sailed smoothly in Punjab.” His remarks prompted a strong reaction from PTI leaders. Mr Elahi later issued an apology for his statement.

He also claimed that some PML-N leaders told him that the PTI helped their party by dissolving the assembly. “If the Punjab Assembly completed its time, you would not have left us to go anywhere,” Mr Elahi quoted some PML-N leaders as saying. Mr Elahi said caretaker CM Mohsin Naqvi should only focus on conducting free and fair elections. Observing that instituting cases against PML-N’s rivals was not his job, Mr Elahi warned, “Will he not return home after completing his short stint of three months.”

‘Illegal decision is rejected’

In a press conference in response to the decision to remove Mr Shujaat from his party position, Minister for Food Security Tariq Bashir Cheema said, “Chaudhry Shujaat is still president of the party legally and constitutionally.”

Flanked by Shujaat’s son Chaudhry Salik Hussain, federal minister for the Board of Investment and special initiatives, Mr Cheema said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will decide whether Chaudhry Shujaat was the president of the Q-League or not. He added the case regarding the fate of the two factions was pending verdict by the ECP.

“It is the first time in the country’s history that a political party’s decision is being made in such a botched manner by gathering the people of two to three districts of Lahore,” the federal minister said.

“We strongly condemn this move [of Pervaz Eahi]. At least, I personally was not expecting that he would do something like this,” Mr Cheema said, adding that there was a “huge story” behind the move to remove Shujaat Hussain and all would be revealed at the right time.

He pointed out that Mr Elahi’s faction within the party was “not daring to merge with the PTI”, saying that there were a “few things not allowing them to take this step”. The federal minister said Mr Shujaat has called a general council meeting of the PML-Q in 10 days in which members of the party from all four provinces will take part. “The meeting will show that who is the parry president and who commands the majority in the party,” Mr Cheema added.

Speaking on the occasion, Chaudhry Salik Hussain equated Mr Elahi’s move similar to the step taken by the former Punjab chief minister in July, wherein the PML-Q central working committee had unanimously decided to remove Mr Shujaat and Mr Cheema from their party positions.

The minister highlighted that there was a procedure to call a general council session, but Mr Elahi did not issue a notice to all the party members 10 days prior. He claimed that Parvez Elahi was merely doing that to show the PTI that he has control over the PML-Q and so that talks regarding seat adjustment could bear fruit.

Asked if the PML-Q would approach the courts regarding the matter, the minister said that the court could not be moved if the matter was pending with the election commission.

Differences in the PML-Q ranks first appeared in March last year around the time of the no-confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan as Parvez Elahi entered the PTI camp while Mr Shujaat joined the then-opposition.

The same split was witnessed in last year’s Punjab chief minister election saga as the Shujaat-led camp supported the candidature of PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz instead of his cousin Parvez Elahi. Amid a widening rift between the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Shujaat had extended an olive branch in August, asking Mr Elahi to put an end to differences.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023

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