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February 23, 2021

Hafeez Sheikh facing a different ball game

National

February 23, 2021

ISLAMABAD: For the first time in his political career, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh is using all his persuasive skills to attract voters to get himself elected as senator. Although he has been elected to the Senate through indirect polls on numerous occasions in the past, he has never previously put in such great personal effort as he is putting in today.

This is totally new territory for the technocrat; it is not in his temperament to reach out to members of the electoral college to seek their votes.

Sheikh’s previous elections were exceptionally easy and smooth as he had faced no formidable opponent. Whether he had been fielded by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), he had managed to cruise to victory without too many hassles because of the impressive numerical strength of his sponsoring parliamentary party.

This time too, the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has nominated him as its candidate, has a majority in the National Assembly. However, the entry into the arena of the joint candidate of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, has on the face of it turned the contest into a tough clash -- or at least such an impression is now being created.

Whether Shaikh or Gilani win or lose, making a dent in each other’s strength would be portrayed as a huge achievement that will have serious repercussions on the country’s politics. The immediate challenge for the two sides is to bag their actual number of votes. And if they succeed and are restricted to their respective numbers, Shaikh will certainly carry the day.

Meanwhile, Shaikh has recently travelled to meet the apparently estranged members of the National Assembly (MNAs). His visit to Faisalabad, in the company of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar and a couple of federal ministers, was meant to convince the disgruntled MPs to vote for him. Shaikh also met the Chaudhrys of Gujrat of the PML-Q to make sure their party lawmakers support him. He has called upon the leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) for the same purpose. All these parliamentary parties are allies of the ruling party. Shaikh was asked by Prime Minister Imran Khan to personally approach the decision-makers of the allied parties so that no one complains later that they were not contacted by the contestant himself.

Shaikh is a thorough technocrat and has always preferred to stay away from politics. He talks about politics only when he discusses the ‘destruction’ of the economy by previous governments. Ironically, he has been a part of some of these governments as the finance minister himself. He had been heard in the past making political speeches while presenting the federal budget in the National Assembly. But he has not got this opportunity during the tenure of the present government as he is an adviser to the prime minister who cannot present the budget.

For different reasons, successive governments have treated Shaikh as the panacea to cure all the ills of the economy and have inducted him into the cabinet, making him in-charge of the finance portfolio. He has served political and military governments alike.

He was adviser on finance during the previous PPP government. Because he could not present the federal budget as an adviser, the PPP had elected him as senator. The present dispensation also appointed him advisor on finance and later inducted him as the unelected finance minister, an office that he can hold for just six months under the Constitution. He was given the cabinet position to get him elected as senator later.

In 2000, he was made the minister for finance and planning in Sindh in the military government. He was elected to the Senate as a PML-Q candidate from Sindh in March 2003. He had been a member of the Senate between 2003 and 2006. Later in April 2003, he was made the federal minister for privatisation in the Musharraf government. Sheikh was again elected to the Senate as a PPP candidate from Sindh in March 2006. He had been a senator between 2006 and 2012. In March 2010, he was made the finance minister in the Yousaf Raza Gillani government. He was again elected to the Senate as a candidate of PPP from Sindh in 2012. He had been a senator between 2012 and 2016. In February 2013, he resigned as the finance minister when the PPP government’s tenure ended.