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March 8, 2018

Nawaz pre-empts Zardari by suggesting Rabbani as Senate chief


March 8, 2018

ISLAMABAD: By favouring Mian Raza Rabbani, belonging to the rival political force, as the next senate chairman, the ousted Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, tried to preempt ex-president Asif Ali Zardari to nominate someone else.

However, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supremo quickly disapproved the proposal as he has some other preference for the Upper House chief’s slot. He thus demonstrated that the decisions about his party are to be taken by him and not by an outsider.

Rabbani deserves the treatment the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and its allied parties extended in recognition of his exceptional democratic credentials and non-partisan role. Before the outgoing Senate chief’s own party selected or ignored him, Nawaz Sharif took the lead despite being his being the single largest party. If there is no consensus on Rabbani, and it is clear as of now that there will not be, a contest will take place, which will be perfectly democratic. In this clash Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will be between a rock and a hard place if it will have to choose between the PML-N and PPP to partner with in this poll.

The third option available to the PTI, most plausible from its point of view that it is going to follow, is to refrain from supporting either of the two major parties and sponsor its own nominee in the March 12 clash. However, its solo flight may be more detrimental for the PPP than the PML-N as the latter has a clear edge over the former and would not be seeking its votes. The PPP actually needsthe PTI’s help. Obviously, the PTI’s joining forces with the PML-N or PPP will nullify its perennial toxic campaign against them, which Imran Khan will intensify in the electioneering for the upcoming parliamentary polls.

However, it will be a huge godsend for the PPP if the PTI teams up with it in a bid to defeat the PML-N. Bearing in mind the overall tough time thrust upon the PML-N, there is a remote possibility that the PPP and PTI may be pushed to break bread to deprive their common foe of the top Upper House berth.

The PPP will be more than willing to offer the position of the deputy chairman to the PTI that has 12 senators, who were elected by the same Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly that came into existence as a result of the 2013 elections.

In addition, the PPP-PTI alliance may send a positive message to the fence sitters that their support to it would be received well by different circles. But a hard fact that those conceiving such a coalition seem to discount is that it will still be short of the requisite number to elect its chairman because the overall tally of the PML-N and its allies is ahead of it.

Immediately, the PPP’s 20 senators and PTI’s 12 MPs can bring their combined numbers to 32 MPs apart from the independents recently elected from Balcohistan that the PPP claims to be with it. Except at least two senators, belonging to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), who are openly with the PML-N, it will be premature for any side counting the remaining six MPs from this region with it because they have a history of going with any party.

There is no instance, whatsoever, when the PTI became soft even slightly on the PML-N since the 2013 general elections. It has never relented on its hard-hitting strategy against it. But there are examples when the PML-N adopted a deliberate meek policy towards the PPP. One specimen emerged when PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi had done campaigning in Sindh a couple of years back and Imran Khan had postponed his public rally in that area.

A latest development that may be a hindrance in the way of the PTI cooperating with the PPP may be the former’s public attack on the latter for what it alleged buying its votes in KP in the Senate election. As a result of this phenomenon, the PTI not only lost one seat but was also robbed of another when Maulana Samiul Haq, backed by it, was defeated.

Even such a grouping, if cobbled together, is successful in clinching the Senate chief’s berth, the new chairman will always remain on a weak wicket, facing the risk of being voted out by the formidable PML-N-led bloc, which, in any case, will stay strong in whatever position it will be.

Senior PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan is confident that not only the PTI but also all the other parliamentary forces in the Senate will agree to his party’s nominee who will be elected unanimously. He did not name the aspirant, but what he meant was that the PPP would field a non-controversial figure against whom no party will have any reservations.

He aspired a scenario that had prevailed when Mian Raza Rabbani was unanimously elected chairman way back in March 2015 with the support of all parties. PTI’s Shibli Faraz had fought against Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri in the race for the deputy chairman.

At the time, the PPP and PML-N had almost equal numerical strength. Asif Ali Zardari had succeeded in garnering the support of smaller parties and due to Rabbani’s democratic credentials, the PML-N had also agreed.

One of the apparent first and foremost considerations before the PML-N in nominating the candidate for the Senate chief’s fight will be to keep in mind its allies like the National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party. It may be discounted that the PML-N will pick up its nominee without fully taking its allies into confidence.

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