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In election politics past and present haunt PML-Q

January 11, 2013

If a senior PML-Q leader and federal minister is to be believed, his party is virtually on the death bed. In his view only an immediate divorce from the ruling PPP can save and resuscitate the party to the vigour which saw it rule the country from 2002 to 2007 — under the tutelage of former military president Pervez Musharraf.

“An overwhelming majority of the party lawmakers who met in Islamabad last week spoke unequivocally against an electoral alliance with President Zardari. It was the first time that I saw lines of worry on the faces of the Chaudhry cousins who had been steadfast in their support to the PPP-led ruling coalition so far,” said the PML-Q federal minister.

Some of the party lawmakers told the leadership in no uncertain terms that they would prefer to contest as independents rather than go into the forthcoming elections as a joint candidate of the PML-Q and the PPP.

Another participant of the meeting confirmed the misgivings. His observation was that although Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and cousin Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who head the party in the centre and in Punjab respectively, agreed in principle to go into the elections under the traditional party symbol of bicycle, they were reluctant to part ways with the PPP.

Why? Because, they believe a seat-to-seat adjustment with PPP to be a win-win situation for both the parties.

But the PML-Q lawmakers opposed to an electoral alliance with the PPP argued that a diehard PPP voter would never vote for them. And neither old Muslim Leaguers would put the stamp of approval on the arrow of the PPP. Therefore, they thought the best option to keep the party intact was to say good-bye to President Zardari & Co.

“Most of us have our own, secured constituencies, where parties don't matter any way. Thus, the best move for the Chaudhrys to keep the PML-Q's identity intact is to fight the general election as an independent political party,” said the PML-Q MNA.

He cited the example of Hamid Yar Hiraj who won the NA-157 Khanewal-II seat in the 2002 election as independent candidate and joined the PML-Q only later. In the 2008 election he retained the seat. Hiraj family has strong control in the district of Khanewal.

Riaz Fatiana too went into the 2002 election as independent and won. In 2008 he was a PML-Q candidate and had no difficulty in winning the NA-94 Toba Tek Singh seat, although overall the party lost that election.

Sardar Talib Hassan Nakai's family has strong presence in district Kasur, and he remained undefeated in the NA-142, district Kasur, in both the 2002 and 2008 general elections.

Likewise, Sardar Bahadur Ahmad Sehar’s father was with the PPP but he himself joined the PML-Q before the 2002 election and easily won the NA-181 Layyah-I seat twice.

“Yes, an election alliance can be formed with likeminded political parties and on equal footing,” the PML-Q minister said.

After all the PML-Q was the only party, after the PPP, which won seats throughout the country in the 2008 general elections, both in the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies. As of today, it has 50 members in the National Assembly, 50 in the Punjab Assembly, 19 in the Balochistan Assembly, 11 in Sindh Assembly and six members in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

Still the coalition that the PPP and PML-N formed at the centre and in Punjab in the wake of that election pushed the PML-Q on the sidelines. But the coalition proved short-lived and the ensuing open warfare between the two brought the PML-Q back to power in May 2011 when President Zardari and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain decided to join hands in the centre.

Although, the Shujaat-Zardari deal won Chaudhry Pervez Elahi his wish,  the title of deputy prime minister, PML-Q ministers and lawmakers always complained of receiving “step-motherly treatment” from the PPP prime ministers.

“Since joining the coalition, we have stood by the government — whether in the face-off with the judiciary, or blackmailing by the coalition partner MQM. But, the ruling PPP always ignored us,” said a PML-Q lawmaker from Southern Punjab, who is for breaking ties with the PPP as soon as possible.

“We (PML-Q lawmakers) always came last when it came to the distribution of development funds. And now, when the PPP government has opened floodgates of jobs for its workers, our recommendation letters for the same are thrown in the dustbin.

This is not acceptable,” he declared. Sources close to the Chaudhry cousins say that as far as the issue of election alliance is concerned, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain is for keeping the party’s options open until the next general election is announced.

However, the younger and ambitious Chaudhry Pervez Elahi favours announcing election alliance with the PPP as soon as possible. “Mr Elahi thinks that with no chance of joining the PML-N, the only way to come back to power is with the help of the PPP,” remarked a PML-Q leader.

When asked for comments, a senior PML-Q leader said that “being a political party, we are keeping all our options open and hence talking to everybody in the field. The final decision about our election allies will be taken only after the schedule for the next general elections is announced”.

It is obvious that the PML-Q will be going into the elections weighed by the heavy baggage of its association with General Pervez Musharraf. This is the sole reason Mr Elahi fears that there is little chance of the party winning the election on its own and needs an alliance with the PPP.

However, politics is the name of possibilities. Who knows what elections are held and who wins them when evangelical Dr Tahirul Qadri and his “millions” are out to stir up things.

Interestingly, only the PML-Q and MQM leadership visited Dr Qadri in his office in Lahore and supported his agenda for election reforms.

In fact the PML-Q last week passed a resolution against the Election Commission of Pakistan for what its “soft stand” towards arch rival PML-N.