Shehbaz prevails in race for PM House

Published February 14, 2024
ISLAMABAD: (from left to right) IPP President Aleem Khan, BAP leader Sadiq Sanjrani, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat, PPP leader Asif Zardari and MQM-P’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui announce their decision to form a coalition at the Centre, on Monday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: (from left to right) IPP President Aleem Khan, BAP leader Sadiq Sanjrani, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat, PPP leader Asif Zardari and MQM-P’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui announce their decision to form a coalition at the Centre, on Monday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

• ‘Coalition of the willing’ announce their intention to form govt in Centre
• Nawaz gives younger brother blessing to become premier; Zardari tipped to be president; Maryam Nawaz to rule Punjab
• Arch-rivals invite PTI to join ruling alliance ‘to heal wounds’
• Six-party bloc has 152 general seats in NA, will comfortably cross simple majority mark of 169 after allocation of reserved seats

ISLAMABAD: After a few days of uncertainty and ‘will-they-won’t-they’, the country finally got the answer to the most burning of electoral questions: who would be the next prime minister of Pakistan.

It will apparently be a second shot at premiership for Shehbaz Sharif, the seemingly ‘reluctant’ consensus candidate, who was the one receiving pledges of allegiance from frontline political leaders of six of the country’s main parties (except the PTI), as they announced on Tuesday night their intention to form a government in the Centre and provinces.

There was a palpable sense of déjà vu as TV screens showed Shehbaz, Asif Zardari, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Sadiq Sanjrani and Aleem Khan taking their seats at the joint presser at Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s residence in the capital — it seemed like the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) had reformed after their pre-election breakup.

But Shehbaz, who kept insisting throughout the day — even during the late-night presser — that he would request Nawaz to take up the mantle of premiership, was revealed to have secured his brother’s blessing to become leader of the coalesced house. The announcement, which came in the form of a tweet by Marriyum Aurangzeb, seemed to have been drafted beforehand as it was posted as soon as the presser ended.

Maryam Nawaz, it was revealed, would be the coalition’s candidate for the slot of Punjab chief minister.

The PTI’s succinct reaction to these late-night developments came in the form of a photo of the six party leaders, tweeted from the party’s official X account with the caption: ‘Mandate thieves’.

‘Same page’

Mr Zardari, known for his ability to sway even the staunchest of political rivals, was the one to make the formal announcement: “We will take Pakistan out of difficult times,” he said as he revealed that the political leaders gathered with him had decided to form the government together.

He also struck a reconciliatory note — a far cry from the line taken by his son Bilawal during his own remarks following the PPP Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting earlier in the day — saying that fence-mending was the need of the hour in the prevailing political situation and that the PTI should also be included in that process.

“It is not that we want that PTI does not enter reconciliation. It should, and every other political force should come and talk to us. Our economic and defence agenda should be common. We should move forward with our commonalities and then make the house of Sharif and others successful, so we can make Pakistan successful.”

Shehbaz recounted how those gathered represented “a-near two-thirds majority” in parliament, adding that they had all come together “to tell the nation that we all accept the split mandate”.

He also hinted that Asif Zardari could be the next president of Pakistan, telling a questioner: “We will not disappoint you” when asked if the PPP leader would be the next head of state.

Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, who had been taunting Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s “shattered dream” of becoming PM just hours ago, then piped up to say that no interest could be greater than serving Pakistan for any party at the moment.

 Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. — DawnNewsTV
Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. — DawnNewsTV

“With mutual cooperation, we will strengthen democracy and support Mian Shehbaz Sharif. We have supported him before and will do so in future,” he told the news conference while seated next to Mr Zardari, whose son he was taunting just hours ago.

Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party leader Aleem Khan also chimed in, saying: “I am hopeful the upcoming government of Shehbaz Sharif will efficiently take such decisions and end miseries of the poor,” he added.

 Aleem Khan. — DawnNewsTV
Aleem Khan. — DawnNewsTV

Conspicuous by his absence was erstwhile PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who was busy with his own party’s central shura. However, the younger Sharif sibling told reporters that he would be speakling to the Maulana soon to seek his support.

Later on Tuesday night, it emerged that BAP leader Sadiq Sanjrani had met with the Maulana to discuss the modalities of government formation in Balochistan.

Earlier pressers ‘superceded’

The late-night joint presser flew in the face of earlier press engagements, addressed by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif, as well as MQM-P’s rejoinder to the former.

In his remarks after the meeting of the party’s CEC, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had said that the party had refused to join the future government, but had assured the PML-N of their support in the formation of the government and election of the prime minister.

This arrangement, he had said, would be in exchange for top constitutional offices, including president, National Assembly speaker, Senate chairman and the four governors.

“Neither the PTI, nor PML-N, nor PPP are in a position to form their own government, and if we do not support PML-N, we will have to go for re-election, which the country does not afford,” he had said.

“The PPP has decided that while we are not in a position to join the federal government ourselves, nor will we be interested in taking ministries in such a setup, we also do not want to see political chaos in the country.”

This offer was ‘happily’ accepted by Shehbaz Sharif, who in turn had challenged PTI-backed independents to show their hand – and their majority in the house – if they had the numbers.

“If the (PTI backed) independents think they have a majority they should come forward and form the government in the Centre. We will welcome it and sit on the opposition benches… Pakistan has to move forward… now our fight will be against inflation,” he had said.

He had also referred to the party’s wooing of independents, saying that they had the right to take the free agents onboard.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari had also assailed the conduct of the MQM-P, alleging that the party had been ‘handed’ seats in Karachi.

“Our candidates were subjected to violence, their offices and cars were burned. But despite all this, we will not compromise on the peace and progress of the city of Karachi. Our message to [MQM-P] is not to engage in the politics of hatred and refrain from dividing the city on linguistic lines,” he had said.

In response, Faisal Sabzwari had expressed surprise over the tone and tenor of Bilawal’s speech, but said he would not respond in kind. But in the same breath, he then derided the PPP chairman for lashing out because “his dreams of becoming PM had been shattered by the popular vote”.

Numbers game

As per the Election Commission of Pakistan’s tally, the total number of general seats won by the six parties which announced their plans to form a coalition led by Shehbaz Sharif — PML-N, PPP, MQM-P, PML-Q, IPP and BAP — comes to 152.

This clearly shows that these parties will easily achieve the minimum required number of 169 to form the government at the Centre after the addition of 60 women and 10 minority seats in their tally. However, it is yet to be seen if these parties will be able to get to the next magic number of 224, which is required to obtain the elusive two-thirds majority in a 336-member National Assembly.

Since 101 independents, including 92 PTI-backed independents, have emerged victorious in the Feb 8 elections, the allocation of reserved seats depends upon the decision taken by these independents to either join a party or remain independent.

If the PTI-backed candidates decide to join the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), as announced by the party, it will get a share in the women and minorities seats as well.

However, since the MWM has only won a seat only from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI would only be entitled to a share in the 10 reserved seats allocated to women from that province.

According to Article 51(3) of the Constitution, there are 32 women reserved seats from Punjab, 14 from Sindh and four from Balochistan. These women seats will be distributed among the parties on the basis of general seats won by these parties in each province.

The 10 minority seats, however, will be distributed among the parties on the basis of total general seats won by the parties all over the country, since the whole country is considered to be one constituency for minorities.

Amir Wasim in Islamabad and Zulqernain Tahir in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2024

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