• Predicts no single party will secure two-thirds majority
• Acknowledges ‘talented’ Bilawal needs more experience in politics
• Defends Imran’s ouster, accuses him of plotting to extend stay

ISLAMABAD: Former president Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday anticipated the formation of a “national unity government” after the upcoming general election, insisting that no single party would be able to secure a two-thirds majority.

Mr Zardari expressed confidence that the Feb 8 elections will be held on time. However, he ruled out the possibility of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif playing a leading role in the next government, suggesting that it was the PPP’s turn to take the helm.

In an interview with Geo News, broadcast on Thursday, Mr Zardari criticised former prime minister Imran Khan, accusing the PTI chief of attempting to keep him out of politics and extending his rule by manipulating the 2024 elections.

Commenting on the political journey of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the former president said his son was not yet fully trained. “He’ll take time,” Mr Zardari said, referring to Bilawal.

Acknowledging that Bilawal was “more talented, educated and better spoken than me”, Mr Zardari said: “But experience is experience.”

The two-hour interview covered a range of topics, including Mr Zardari’s experiences with the previous government led by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), PPP’s plans and election strategy, and his perspective on the future political landscape.

National unity government

Mr Zardari projected that no single party would be able to get 172 seats of the National Assembly and a national unity coalition government would be formed after the coming elections.

Regarding potential political alliances, Mr Zardari said the PPP was open to forming coalitions with any party. “If the N-league (PML-N) does not go with us, we can make an alliance with other parties,” he said, stressing that politics “is a chessboard”.

Emphasising that neither the PPP, PML-N nor JUI-F could achieve a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, he said, “It is better to move forward in a way that we can go together.”

As for the possibility of the PML-N supremo becoming prime minister for the fourth time, Mr Zardari said: “I think Nawaz Sharif will not have a lead role. Other parties also exist. Why is PPP being underestimated? We have given them a chance, and now it’s our turn.”

On the possibility of a delay in elections, Mr Zardari confidently asserted that the upcoming polls would take place as scheduled.

“That is why we are out and covering all of Pakistan, going everywhere. Political campaigns are healthy for political parties,” he said.

PTI’s offer to PPP

He criticised PTI Chairman Imran Khan, blaming him for the country’s economic challenges and isolation for lacking any view or capability to run the government.

“Pakistan has been isolated from the world due to Imran. He was an enemy of the economy and responsible for Pakistan’s economic woes,” he added.

Mr Zardari claimed that the PTI had offered six ministries to the PPP if it made an alliance with Mr Khan’s party. “Why should I take six ministries?” he wondered.

When Mr Mir, the talk show host, asked whether former spymaster Faiz Hamid was behind the attempts to forge an alliance between the PTI and the PPP, Mr Zardari avoided a direct response. Instead, he asked Mr Mir whether he wanted him to face Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which deals with confessional statements before a magistrate.

Commenting on the PDM’s April 2022 move to oust Imran Khan as prime minister, Mr Zardari insisted that Pakistan would have suffered if Mr Khan had stayed.

Experience with PDM govt

Mr Zardari said the PPP’s experience with the previous government led by the multi-party coalition was quite difficult.

“I was impressed by (then prime minister) Shehbaz Sharif as he used to start work at six in the morning and finish it till nine in the night,” he said.

However, the former president said he asked Shehbaz several things “which he did not consider and it harmed the country”.

Responding to a question about Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s recent remarks on generational change in politics, Mr Zardari said Bilawal still needed more time to be fully trained.

“The younger generation these days has their own thinking,” Mr Zardari said. “Everyone has a right to express their thoughts. Stopping someone would only create more problems. If he (Bilawal) says, ‘You do politics, I will not’, what will I do?”

Asked whether he was playing “good cop, bad cop”, Mr Zardari said: “This is not a police station where good cop, bad cop is played to get a confession out of someone. If Bilawal were in business with me, he would’ve said the same thing. In politics, too. This is every household’s story.”

He revealed that senior PPP leader Farhatullah Babar had resigned as secretary general of the party’s parliamentarians’ unit (PPPP) and would soon head the PPP’s human rights cell.

Emphasising the importance of the 18th constitutional amendment, Mr Zardari said it would be implemented more effectively under a PPP-led government.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2023

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