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Thursday December 02, 2021

PML-N, PPP trade barbs over new Senate opposition leader

March 27, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Two major constituents of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – continue to trade barbs while remaining in the fold of the opposition alliance. As a result of their blow-hot-blow-cold actions, the alliance has lost considerable steam in recent weeks.

The latest step that has further marred their ties is the PPP’s move to get Yusuf Raza Gilani nominated as the leader of the opposition in the Senate, leaving the PML-N behind in the race. As a result, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani had no option but to name Gilani as the new opposition leader under the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Upper House of Parliament.

Any aspirant who submits to the chairman a list signed by more senators than the supporters of his rival has to be made the leader of the opposition. The chairman had no discretion to exercise, according to the rules.

Ironically, the PPP filed the list with Sanjrani at the precise time that PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz was hosting a breakfast in the honour of the PDM leaders to express her gratitude to them for showing solidarity with her by agreeing to accompany her during her aborted appearance before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The signatories of Gilani’s list makes extraordinary reading. Dilawar Khan, elected from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2018 who later formally joined the PML-N, is one of them. He claims to have set up a group of independent senators, including three members of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). However, all of them are controlled by the discipline of their respective parliamentary parties.

The BAP is an ally of the ruling coalition. In fact, the Senate chairman belongs to this party. It is extremely strange that a faction of the party that voted for Sanjrani in the chairman’s election, also extended its support to Gillani. This has led to charges of the senators playing on both sides of the wicket.

The solitary Jamaat-e-Islami senator was also one of the signatories. The party that has always been obsessed with maintaining an independent status --withholding its support to any opposition or government partner considering both inconsequential-- dispensed with its neutrality.

PDM leaders, including their chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and particularly PML-N stalwarts, have reiterated umpteen times that the decision to give the office of the Senate opposition leader to the PML-N was taken during the deliberations of the alliance before the Senate elections.

However, a PDM component – the Awami National Party (ANP) – backed Gillani with its two votes. On the other hand, the National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party stood with the PML-N and put their signatures on the PML-N list, which comprised 21 senators as against 30 of Gilani.

Interestingly, Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) remained neutral, neither backing the PPP nor the PML-N in this scramble. Previously, the PML-N had always counted on the five JUI-F votes in its basket. Fazlur Rehman’s decision could have been taken due to his desire to remain neutral in the fight between the two principal constituent parties of the PDM so that the opposition coalition is not further damaged. Fazlur Rehman still believes he could play the role of an honest broker to assuage the deep misgivings between the PPP and PML-N.

The latest development is bad news for the PDM, which is struggling to remain a united force to be reckoned with. It has further aggravated the mistrust between the PML-N and PPP. In its first reaction, the PML-N has taken a serious exception to the PPP’s move.

Asif Ali Zardari’s speech via video link to the last PDM meeting, in which he had hit Nawaz Sharif hard, had created the first big cracks in the alliance. These fissures continue to widen. After a verbal showdown between Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto through her tweet and his remarks at a presser, the two parties decided to bring down the temperature by avoiding further harsh exchanges. It was after that bitter exchange that the PPP agreed to nominate a delegation led by Qamar Zaman Kaira to accompany Maryam Nawaz during her appearance before NAB.

At that point it had appeared to most PDM leaders that the tension would prove to be momentary but the PPP’s decision to get Gillani named as the opposition leader in the Senate at all costs has dashed hopes that the situation will revert to normalcy.

The PPP publicly admits that it had agreed within the PDM before the Senate elections that the PML-N would get the slot of the opposition leader. It was also part of the deal that Gilani would be supported by all the PDM parties in the contests for the Islamabad seat and Senate chairman. But the PPP reneged on its commitment after Gilani’s defeat in the Senate chairman’s race saying that the situation had changed.

All the PML-N MPs voted for Gilani in the election for the Islamabad seat and Senate chief. But when the PML-N sought the PPP’s support as per the accord, the latter aggressively snubbed the move. The PPP clearly wants to stress that it can’t be wished away or taken for granted. It believes that it was because of its leadership’s smart moves that, despite having fewer votes in the National Assembly than the PML-N, it had not only got Gilani elected as senator but also secured the post of the opposition leader.