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August 17, 2018
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Joint opposition divided even before PM’s election

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August 17, 2018

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Shahbaz Sharif (C), the younger brother of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and head of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), speaks with opposition leaders Maulana Fazalur Rehman (L) and Khursheed Shah (R) as they attend an opposition All Parties Conference in Islamabad on August 2, 2018. -AFP

ISLAMABAD: The grand opposition alliance formed in the aftermath of the July 25 general election appears to be in tatters, ahead of the expected election of Imran Khan as the prime minister of Pakistan today.

Having lost the support of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for Shahbaz Sharif’s candidacy for the top executive slot earlier this week, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has now failed to obtain the backing of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), sources close to the party’s top decision making body revealed.

Meeting at its headquarters in Mansura, Lahore, on August 11-12, the JI Shura decided that the party’s two MNAs – one directly elected, the other elected from a reserved women’s seat – would abstain from voting in the PM’s election. The JI MNAs did not back any contestant for the post of the speaker on Wednesday.

They supported the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) candidate for the position of deputy speaker of the National Assembly (NA), but even that was a meaningless gesture, the JI sources said.

The JI leadership had already decided in principle to withdraw from its alliance with the other major religious parties, following the dismal electoral performance of the MMA. However, the Shura decided to wait several months before publicly abandoning its partners.

Amid great expectations, leaders from PML-N, PPP, MMA, ANP and other parties joined hands within days of the July 25 elections and resolved to a form a united front to seek a possible remedy to the disputed outcome.

They also agreed to field joint candidates for the elections of speaker, deputy speaker and prime minister. The joint opposition announced it would support the PML-N candidate for the premiership, the PPP nominee for the post of NA speaker, and MMA aspirant for the office of deputy speaker.

However, the appearance of opposition unity was exposed as an illusion when the PPP and JI backtracked on these commitments. The PPP urged the N-League to opt for an alternative candidate to party president, Shahbaz Sharif, highlighting the bad blood straining relations between him and PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari.

The leaders of the second and third largest parties in the National Assembly have since shaken hands with common foe Imran Khan on the floor of the house, but they have avoided each other. This echoed around the chamber during the election of the speaker and deputy speaker, when the PML-N staged a loud protest, but the PPP MNAs remained seated and kept mum.

On the eve of the PM’s election, the PTI and its allies have good reason to be confident they would succeed in ushering Khan into power. There is no indication as yet that the PPP might once again change its mind and support Sharif as the opposition’s joint candidate.

The PML-N smells a rat. It believes that Zardari’s political maneuvers are directly linked to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) investigation into the fake accounts case allegedly involving the former president, his sister Faryal Talpur and several front men. If the PPP refrains from backing Sharif, those are likely to be considered confirmed and the joint opposition project could be rendered irredeemable.

Meanwhile, the imminent exit of the JI from the MMA augurs ill for the plans of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) to mount an aggressive campaign against the election results. It was to have included streets protests, sit-ins and boycotts of the assemblies, but that looks a distant prospect now because of the behavior of key MMA partner, the JI, as well as the angst between Sharif and Zardari.

The next casualty of opposition bickering may be Sirajul Haq, the JI Ameer. Since the party’s election debacle, a large number of Jamaat activists have clamoured for his resignation. He was also harshly criticized for endorsing Rehman’s initial decision not to allow opposition members of the national and provincial assemblies to take oath.

JI sources said a wilted Haq offered his resignation to the Shura. Instead, it decided to allow him to continue as party leader until the forthcoming election for the position of JI Ameer at the end of the year – at which point the MMA would stand dissolved.

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