Opposition in desperate bid to field joint presidential candidate

LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on Sunday made an appeal to the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership to withdraw its presidential candidate Aitzaz Ahsan in favour of the ‘joint’ opposition nominee Maulana Fazlur Rehman while, sources say, some PPP leaders may try to meet Nawaz Sharif to discuss the matter when he arrives to attend the hearing of NAB references against him in an accountability court in Islamabad on Monday (today).

Maulana Fazl called on PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif at the latter’s Model Town residence here and reportedly asked him to help persuade the PPP leadership to withdraw its candidate in his favour. “Not withdrawing Mr Ahsan means giving a walkover to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf candidate Dr Arif Alvi like the PPP did in the election of prime minister,” the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief said.

The PPP also believes the PTI would benefit if there were two opposition candidates. “We need to show maturity. Asif Ali Zardari is hopeful that Mr Ahsan will be the joint candidate of the opposition at the end of the day,” a PPP leader told reporters.

He told Dawn that there were chances that the PML-N and PPP leaders might meet to evolve a consensus on a joint opposition candidate. “Both sides — the PML-N and PPP — have not yet lost hope on reaching a consensus,” he said, adding that the PML-N was a bit disappointed that the PPP did not agree on the name of Maulana Fazl.

PML-N asks PPP to withdraw Aitzaz; PPP leaders may try to meet Nawaz today

“The Sharif brothers were of the view that since Maulana Fazl enjoyed good relations with the PPP leadership, Mr Zardari would support him for the presidential election. But Mr Zardari seems to have his own political cards to play, giving a surprise to the opposition,” he said.

After the meeting with Shahbaz Sharif, Maulana Fazl told reporters that he thanked the PML-N leadership for reposing trust in him and nominating him as a joint candidate of the opposition (except the PPP). “We — the PML-N and 10 other parties — will jointly contest this election. We will try our best to persuade the PPP leadership to withdraw its candidate in favour of the joint opposition candidate (Maulana Fazl),” he said.

Interestingly, Shahbaz Sharif did not accompany Maulana Fazl during his media talk, instead sent his son Hamza Shahbaz and PML-N hawk Khawaja Saad Rafique for the purpose.

Explaining why he could not withdraw in favour of the PPP candidate, the JUI-F chief said: “It is difficult for us — PML-N, five parties of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and five other parties — to withdraw our candidate. Instead it is quite easy for the PPP to withdraw its candidate.”

Reminding the PPP of its earlier ‘rigid’ stance during the election of the prime minister and Punjab chief minister, he said: “PPP benefited the PTI candidates in the election of the prime minister and chief minister by abstaining from voting. This attitude is not even good for PPP’s politics. I ask the PPP leadership to only consider me as a joint candidate for the slot of president because it is the only way to keep the opposition intact.”

Maulana Fazl said he was considered a solution to the opposition’s problem in the presidential poll. “All opposition parties have seen a solution to this problem (joint candidate of opposition) in me. The PPP should also realise that when it comes to protest, torture, and going to jail, I am acceptable to the PPP, but when it comes to the presidential election, I am not acceptable to it... that should not happen. I ask the PPP to accept me as a joint candidate as a lot depends in this decision on the future of the joint opposition,” he said and warned that the opposition might remain in disarray if it did not have a consensus candidate.

Hamza Shahbaz said: “Fazlur Rehman is the joint candidate of opposition and we will try to take other parties, including PPP, on board.”

Saad Rafique said if the opposition remained divided on a consensus candidate, Asif Zardari and the PPP would be responsible for this. “The PPP should not do what it had done in the election of the prime minister. We appeal to the PPP to withdraw its candidate in favour of Maulana Fazlur Rehman as he has a long political struggle,” he said.

Punjab PPP president Qamar Zaman Kaira told a press conference here on Sunday: “We’d tried to meet Nawaz Sharif in Adiala jail as per desire of PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif to [formally] seek his support for Aitzaz Ahsan as opposition’s joint candidate in the presidential vote but could not for reasons that might not be disclosed right now.”

Mr Kaira, former opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, Chaudhry Manzoor, MPA Hasan Murtaza and other PPP leaders were accompanying Aitzaz Ahsan during his visit to the Punjab capital for his electioneering.

Ruling alliance’s nominee Arif Alvi had already visited Lahore on Friday and Saturday with regard to his election campaign.

A PML-N leader claims that the PPP leaders are ready to meet Nawaz Sharif in the accountability court on Monday (today) if the N-League requires so and the JUI-F chief withdraws from the presidential contest.

Mr Kaira held the media responsible for “speculating” Mr Ahsan as the PPP nominee, leading to a rift among opposition parties on the joint candidate issue.

“In our internal consultations, we’ve in fact suggested and not declared Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan as our candidate like other [opposition] parties prepared their own suggestions. But a TV channel through its tickers began presenting him as our final selection and the impression is refusing to go notwithstanding our repeated denials,” he regretted.

In reply to a question about PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rashid’s statement that Mr Ahsan should seek forgiveness from the Sharifs for his outburst against them, Mr Kaira said the PPP didn’t commit the sins requiring forgiveness and that if the trend was set then each and every party would have to seek forgiveness from the PPP for their statements and actions against its leadership in the past. He said the N-League too had distanced itself from Mr Rashid’s ‘dictatorial’ remarks.

Mr Kaira said he didn’t believe the PML-N leadership would resort to quid pro quo in the presidential poll for the PPP had not voted for Shahbaz Sharif in the prime ministerial election. He told a questioner that there existed no opposition alliance and the agreement among the opposition parties was on jointly working on the one point — exposing rigging in the July 25 elections.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2018

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