farooq-naek-AFP-670
Federal law minister Farooq H Naek. — Photo by AFP/File

ECP to pick PM if no decision today: PPP, PML-N in desperate bid to save face

ISLAMABAD: The eight-member special parliamentary committee held another marathon session on Thursday and discussed merits and demerits of four nominees for the post of caretaker prime minister.

The meeting lasted about four hours and the members said it had been held in a cordial atmosphere.

Rejecting a perception that there was deadlock between the PPP and PML-N, their leaders proclaimed that the issue of caretaker premier would be resolved at the committee level.

“We have given surprises in the past, and once again will surprise everybody by reaching a consensus on the issue between ourselves at the committee level,” senior PPP leader Khurshid Ahmed Shah quipped when asked if members of the committee had failed to agree on a name and the matter would eventually be decided by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Equally optimistic was former law minister Farook H. Naek, who said: “The bipartisan committee is discussing all four nominees in detail so that in the end we can pick one who is best for the country and its people, and above all, can take us through the interim period and hold free and fair elections.”

The committee, Senator Naek claimed, was working leaving party politics behind and considering all four nominees on equal grounds.

The committee had on Wednesday noted down merits and demerits of PML-N nominee Rasul Bakhsh Palijo and PPP nominee retired Justice Mir Hazar Khan Khoso.

On Thursday, it scrutinised retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid (PML-N nominee) and Dr Ishrat Hussain (PPP).

Senator Naek reiterated his earlier stance that even if the committee couldn’t reach an agreement, the constitution was clear that the selection of caretaker prime minister would be made by the ECP. Therefore, the impression about a deadlock was absolutely misplaced, he added.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, he said both sides had raised questions about each other’s nominees which would be answered at the last meeting on Friday before the committee announced its decision.

“We have certain concerns about PMN-L’s nominees and they have about ours,” Senator Naek said without explaining the nature of concerns.

Sources privy to the meeting told Dawn that the PPP was reluctant to accept Justice Zahid because of his close association with the Sharif brothers. They said the PPP believed that President Asif Ali Zardari had been falsely implicated in a murder case of his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto in 1996 and it was Justice Zahid on whose order he had been sent to jail.

The PML-N members of the committee argued at the meeting that ambassador-at-large Khalil Ahmad, appointed by President Zardari, was a relative of Dr Isharat Hussain and, therefore, this connection made his nomination biased.

But there was one member of the committee who during the meeting as well as at the press conference insisted on the selection of caretaker premier at the level of the committee. In his brief remarks, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain expressed the hope that the committee would not disappoint people and reach an agreement on one name. But he warned that if the committee failed to do the job it would remain a permanent stigma on politicians.

Mohammad Yaqoob Khan Nasir of the PML-N, who presided over the meeting on Thursday, rejected a perception that his party wanted the matter sent to the ECP. He said he was confident that the committee would select the caretaker prime minister.

The sources said the PML-N was pushing for Justice Zahid and the PPP for Dr Hussain. But an argument was also being made in favour of Justice Khoso since he belonged to Balochistan.

NAWAZ IN ISLAMABAD: After the committee meeting, PML-N members briefed their party chief Nawaz Sharif on the day’s deliberations.

A participant of the meeting told Dawn that a section of the party led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was forcefully insisting that the selection of caretaker prime minister should be left to the ECP.

At a press conference in Lahore on Tuesday, Chaudhry Nisar had forecast that eventually the matter would be decided by the ECP. He was of the opinion that accepting a PPP nominee would further strengthen the perception that the two parties were in some kind of agreement and, therefore, the ECP should be given the task of appointing a caretaker prime minister.

The PML-N source said Mr Sharif had directed the committee members to try utmost in defence of the party nominees on Friday.

“Of course, the final decision will be made by the party high command. Let us see if he follows the line of Chaudhry Nisar or lets the parliamentary committee complete the job,” the source said.

He said a lot depended on how the PPP played its role in the selection of caretaker chief minister in Punjab.

According to political observers, there is a possibility that if the PPP accepts the PML-N nominee for caretaker chief minister in Punjab, the latter may accept the PPP’s choice at the centre.

But they agreed that it was in the best interest of both sides to resolve the issue at the committee level. Their failure will poorly reflect on their leadership and make the ECP controversial. “If the ECP chooses the PML-N nominee the PPP will cry foul, and vice versa,” said an observer.

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