PML-N, PPP mull over joining hands in by-polls

ISLAMABAD: After going separate ways during the recent election for the key offices of prime minister and president and causing serious damage to the opposition’s unity, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are now considering joining hands in the coming by-elections.

A PML-N delegation, headed by Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, met PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bokhari at his residence here on Sunday and conveyed him a message of the PML-N leadership that the two parties must work together from the platform of joint opposition inside and outside the parliament.

The PML-N delegation comprised Senator Chaudhry Tanveer, former minister Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry and former MNA Anjum Aqeel.

Talking to Dawn after the meeting, Mr Bokhari said the two sides had discussed the possibilities of fielding joint candidates in next month’s by-elections to be held in 11 constituencies of the National Assembly and 26 of the provincial assemblies. These seats have fallen vacant due to different reasons, including resignations by those elected on more than one seat and death of some contesting candidates.

Zafar-led delegation conveys party high-command’s message to Peoples Party

Mr Bokhari said they had discussed various options and proposals, but refused to provide details, saying he could not do so before discussing them with his party’s leadership. He said the PML-N leaders had also sought time so that they could also consult their leadership.

In reply to a question, the PPP leader said cooperation between the two parties would not be limited to two or three seats, and they would have to agree on a formula for all the constituencies.

Asked if the PML-N delegation had conveyed any message of their supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, Mr Bokhari said, “The message was simple that we should work as joint opposition inside and outside the parliament to give a tough time to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.”

He expressed the hope that there would be more meetings between the two parties in a few days and said that not only the PML-N, but other opposition parties would also be taken on board, if they (the PPP and PML-N) reached consensus.

Similarly, when contacted, PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq said the two sides had agreed to increase coordination and cooperation with a view to playing an effective role of opposition. He said they had discussed the option of jointly contesting the upcoming by-elections, but no final decision had been made so far.

Sources said the main purpose of the visit of the PML-N’s delegation was to seek cooperation on the two National Assembly seats — NA-53 Islamabad and NA-60 Rawalpindi. However, they said, Mr Bokhari made no commitment with the PML-N team and stressed the need for a broader cooperation and adjustments on all the seats being contested in the by-polls.

The sources said that PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif was reaching Islamabad on Monday (today) after which contacts between the country’s two major parties and arch rivals of the past were expected to increase. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is also expected to be present in the capital as the National Assembly is also in session.

It was the first direct and formal contact between the two parties after the Sept 4 presidential elections in which the PPP had fielded Chuadhry Aitzaz Ahsan whereas the PML-N and other opposition parties had nominated Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman as their joint candidate against the PTI’s Dr Arif Alvi.

Despite hectic efforts and mediation of other parties, the PML-N had refused to vote for Mr Ahsan due to his controversial remarks about the illness of Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom Nawaz whereas the PPP had also refused to withdraw from the race.

The failure of the opposition parties to field a joint candidate virtually provided a walkover to Dr Arif Alvi who managed to win the election without facing any difficulty.

And after facing humiliation in the presidential poll, the two parties started passing the buck holding each other responsible for it.

Making a direct attack, PML-N information secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan had alleged that Mr Zardari had damaged democracy. He alleged that the PPP had ditched the combined opposition twice — first by refusing to vote for Shahbaz Sharif in the election for the prime minister and then by unilaterally nominating Aitzaz Ahsan as the presidential candidate.

Another PML-N leader Engineer Amir Muqam was of the opinion that Prime Minister Imran Khan and president-elect Dr Alvi should be “thankful” to Mr Zardari for the party’s victory in the presidential election.

Similarly, when a reporter sought Mr Zardari’s comments on the PML-N allegations, he had said with his usual smile on his face: “They are saying that Zardari has broken the opposition alliance. Why shouldn’t we say that Mian Sahab (Shahbaz Sharif) has never been in the opposition?”

The grand opposition alliance formed by 11 parties soon after the July 25 elections had fallen apart within weeks following the PPP’s refusal to vote for PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif against PTI chief Imran Khan in the election of prime minister despite agreeing on a formula during a meeting of the multiparty conference.

The PPP backed out of its commitment and asked the PML-N to replace Mr Sharif with some other candidate, explaining that the party could not vote for him as he had made some controversial remarks against Mr Zardari during the election campaign.

The cracks within the opposition ranks deepened when the PPP unilaterally nominated Mr Ahsan as the presidential candidate, drawing the ire of other opposition parties.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2018

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