With the grand opposition alliance failing to reach consensus on a single nominee, the PPP's Aitzaz Ahsan and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Monday emerged as the two candidates challenging Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) candidate Dr Arif Alvi's bid for the head of state's office in the September 4 election.
The failure of the opposition parties to field a joint candidate is expected to provide a virtual walkover to Dr Alvi, an MNA from Karachi.
Ahsan, Alvi and Fazl filed their papers for the election before the 12-noon deadline on Monday.
Fazl, who had suffered humiliating defeat on both seats he contested in the July 25 elections, was thrown another lifeline as the 'single nominee' of the opposition parties (except the PPP).
The JUI-F chief has submitted his nomination papers as a candidate fielded by the PML-N, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, Awami National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and National Party.
PML-N leader Ameer Muqam will be Fazl's covering candidate.
Speaking to reporters after submitting his nomination papers, Ahsan said the only objection raised against his candidature had been that the PPP did not consult other opposition parties before nominating him — a claim he termed false.
The senior lawyer said his name was agreed upon at an internal party meeting, but before it could be proposed to the alliance, the nomination started doing rounds on media as PPP's 'unilateral choice'.
He said the demand put forward by PML-N leader Pervez Rashid that he (Ahsan) should apologise to Nawaz Sharif for his 'unbecoming remarks' regarding the ailment of Nawaz's wife in exchange for the PML-N's possible support was Rashid's "personal opinion", and not the PML-N's position.
Ahsan said he was surprised to hear such a demand coming from Rashid, whom he respects as a "progressive intellectual".
Later, PML-N’s acting secretary general Ahsan Iqbal talked to the media to reveal that it had been decided at the Murree meeting of opposition parties over the weekend that a consensus candidate would be nominated for the presidential polls.
According to Iqbal, all parties had repeatedly requested the PPP leadership to suggest a panel of three names, one of whom would be nominated by the alliance through consensus. However, he claimed, the PPP leadership refused to nominate anyone else besides Ahsan.
"Aitzaz Ahsan was initially nominated without taking parties of the alliance into confidence," Iqbal said, adding that the PML-N leadership and workers had serious concerns over his nomination.
Contradicting the PPP stalwart's statement about Parvaiz Rashid's views being his own, Iqbal said the sentiments of PML-N workers had been hurt by the language used by Ahsan. Iqbal accused the PPP leader of "politicising" the illness of Kulsoom Nawaz.
Although the opposition alliance had decided to nominate Fazl for the election, Iqbal said they would appeal to the PPP to review its decision and support Fazl for the cause of keeping the opposition vote united.
Sources in the opposition had earlier told Dawn that PPP and PML-N representatives, directly and with the help of mediators, had remained in touch throughout Sunday in their bid to reach an understanding, but all their efforts failed due to the PPP’s refusal to withdraw Ahsan’s name.
After submitting his papers for the election, PTI's Dr Alvi appeared optimistic that he will win the Sept 4 contest with a "clear majority".
He said ideally all other candidates should have withdrawn in favour of the PTI nominee so that the federation's representative could attain a significant majority.
If elected, Alvi said he will make use of the "numerous opportunities" within the constitutional ambit of the presidency to raise various issues of public interest.
The grand alliance, which was formed by 11 opposition parties soon after the July 25 elections, has suffered blow upon blow in the weeks since its formation.
The first controversy had erupted following the PPP’s refusal to vote for PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif as a joint opposition candidate for the Prime Minister's Office despite it earlier agreeing on a formula that had authorised the PML-N to nominate its candidate for the PM’s election.
Later, the PPP 'unilaterally' nominated Ahsan as its candidate for the president. The PML-N leaders, who claimed that they had come to know about Ahsan’s nomination through the media, stated in categorical terms that Ahsan’s name could not be considered as the PPP had not consulted any of the opposition parties before making the decision and also because of his ‘nasty remarks’ over the illness of Nawaz Sharif and his wife.
The presidential election will be held on Sept 4 — five days before the expiry of the five-year term of President Mamnoon Hussain.