• Closed-door meetings belie denials of ‘consensus’ between PML-N, PPP camps
• MQM-P delegation in Lahore to meet PML-N leaders
• Bilawal says no decision yet on power-sharing formula with Sharifs
• Insiders say office of president being dangled as a ‘political carrot’

LAHORE / KARACHI: Two of the country’s major political parties — the PML-N and PPP — are making hectic efforts to form government in the Centre, Punjab and Balochistan.

But haunted by ghosts of their previous collaboration under the banner of the Pakistan Demo­cratic Movement (PDM), both sides are keeping their cards close to their chests, cautiously negotiating what a possible power-sharing deal would look like.

It will be a busy Sunday in Lahore and Islamabad, as PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari is expec­ted to hold important meetings today to discuss the modalities of their proposed alliance. There is also talk of the office of president being offered as a ‘political carrot’, so to speak.

Meanwhile, an MQM-P delegation is in Lahore, on the invitation of the PML-N, to discuss their post-election strategy.

A day after the polls, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif had hinted at the formation of a national unity government, along the lines of the PDM alliance, before tasking his brother — former PM Shehbaz Sharif — with reaching out to other parties to begin consultations on government-formation.

“The PML-N leadership on Saturday also discussed a proposal within its ranks to support the PPP to form the federal government and it concentrates on Punjab where it has a comfortable majority with Shehbaz Sharif and not Maryam Nawaz as the chief minister,” a PML-N insider told Dawn.

But this time around, the decision would not be rushed, as was the case when the PDM was formed following the ouster of the Imran Khan government in April 2022.

Speaking to a private TV channel, PML-N spok­e­s­person Marriyum Aura­ngzeb said that Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Zardari held initial consultations, but both would consult their parties regarding the formation of a coalition government.

To a question whether the PML-N would talk to the PTI or its PTI-backed candidates, Ms Aurangzeb said: “The PML-N has no intention to talk to PTI independents.”

Shehbaz is also being tipped as one of the favourites for the slot of premier in the proposed coalition in Islamabad.

“A lot more discussion is under way in the PML-N and PPP regarding forming a coalition. Who will be the prime minister and president, and which party will have the chief minister in Balochistan and so on so forth? All this requires quite a discussion,” the source said.

Meanwhile, Shehbaz Sharif presided over a party meeting in Model Town and called for all political parties to unite for the sake of Pakistan. “We will meet the expectations of the masses. The purpose of the new government will be to provide economic relief to the people,” he said.

The meeting was info­rmed about the PML-N’s contacts with other parties regarding forming the government in the Centre. The meeting also discussed various options in forming the governments in Islamabad and Lahore.

PPP tight-lipped

While the PML-N camp is buzzing with activity, PPP leaders are keeping their cards close to their chest.

Party leaders told Dawn on Saturday they were “surprised” to see the impression that they were “all set” to join a PML-N led coalition government in the Centre, insisting that no such decision had been reached.

So much so, they clai­med, that the idea hadn’t been discussed even within the party so far.

“We haven’t talked abo­ut anything regarding the future partnership or coalition government in the Centre,” PPP Chair­man Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told Dawn.

“No such thing has happened,” he said when quizzed about media reports indicating that the two sides had reached some sort of agreement.

“We are still in the process of assessing the elections results and emerging political situation. Once the results are finalised, the central executive committee, which has already nominated me as the PM candidate, will sit again and devise the course of action,” he said.

Speaking to Geo News earlier in the day, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had said that his party was the only one with representation in all four provinces.

“The full results have not been announced yet. We are not yet aware of the decisions of the independent candidates. It is too soon to predict who will be forming the government in the Centre and the provinces. I can tell you this much, that no one can form the government in the centre, Punjab or Balo­chistan without the PPP’s support,” he said.

“We wish to bury the politics of hatred and division and can no longer continue the traditional manner of doing politics”, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, adding that they wanted to reduce political instability because it was vital for economic stability. “So far, the PPP has not engaged officially with the PML-N, PTI or any other party,” he said.

He also said the party was focusing on setting up a government in the centre, Balochistan and Punjab, as it does not have any competition in Sindh. “We will all have to make a coalition government in Balochistan,” he said, adding that a consensus government would bring political stability.

Criticising Nawaz Sha­rif’s ‘premature’ speech from a day earlier, he said: “Nawaz Sharif made his speech in haste. He too should have waited for the finalised results as us, but it is ultimately his and his party’s prerogative.”

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2024

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