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Wednesday December 08, 2021

PDM: a personal perspective

April 03, 2021

In November last year, I was inside a prison cell in Multan Jail, deprived of food and sleep and not knowing the precise charges against me, yet feeling confident and upbeat. I knew my offence: following the leadership of my chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, to ensure the PDM jalsa in Multan at any cost.

I was a bystander to when the PDM was formed in Islamabad because of a meeting convened by Chairman Bilawal Bhutto. I have decided to speak today in my personal capacity because I am disappointed that my party and my father are being subjected to ill-informed attacks and I wish to set the record straight.

Chairman Bilawal came up with the term “'selected' for the present incompetent, corrupt, non-representative federal government. The history of the PPP and of the Bhutto family’s sacrifices are part of the history of democracy in this country. Personally, my father knows the real cost of being 'elected' as opposed to being 'selected' and speaking truth about a “state within a state". My brother was abducted by the Taliban, my father was kept out of parliament first through a disqualification and then through a rigged election. We have remained steadfast and content and our commitment to the PPP, Chairman Bilawal and democracy has been unwavering.

The decision for Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to contest as a joint PDM candidate came up when a PPP member suggested it and discussed it with the PML-N and other partners, who displayed great enthusiasm for the idea. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also proposed this to the chairman of the PPP at the Hyderabad PDM jalsa. Subsequently, the PML-N expressed the desire to find the right candidate for the grand contest in Islamabad and proposed Mr Gilani's name, who reluctantly agreed. It was both an honor and a vote of confidence on the PPP and Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.

The PML-N worked in great coordination with the PPP on both the election for the Senate seat for Islamabad and for the chairman seat. We won both seats and have contested the naked attempt at rigging by the PTI government and its allies at every forum.

The impression that the leader of the opposition seat was decided conclusively is mistaken. The leader of the opposition position was mentioned in the PDM meeting convened to decide the candidate for the position of the deputy chairman Senate and former Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf opposed the suggestion and said he did not have the authorization from the party to agree to this. He did not wish to embarrass any allies publicly but communicated his reservations again to Mr Abbasi after the meeting. The principle was and is clear that the largest opposition party in the house has a right to have the leader of the opposition of their choice. Further, the PPP in Punjab (including my brother Haider Gilani) resigned from their committee memberships and chairmanships of the provincial assembly committees up to the point Mian Hamza Shahbaz’s right to head the Public Accounts Committee was acknowledged.

Rationally, it seems contradictory that the PML-N leadership agrees that Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani is the right person to become the chairman of the Senate but not leader of the opposition. Also, to insist on a candidate who represents those accused of being involved in the assassination of Shaheed BB. This was communicated politely, firmly and privately and yet for reasons best known to the PML-N, they decided not to reconsider. Also, the unilateral decision to link the Long March and resignations was never discussed or explained. Alliances and movements are based on trust and dialogue; conversations and decisions behind closed doors result in cracks.

Some of the things being said are heartbreaking. Chairman Bilawal and the PPP have always held Maryam Nawaz Sahiba in high esteem and treated her person and politics with great respect. To make the allegation of 'selected' on Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was additionally disappointing because we worked closely with the PML-N for the PDM Multan jalsa and the Senate elections. The Senate election process was a time when the PDM really seemed like one democratic family and while all PDM leaders deserve credit and gratitude, the major force of galvanizing and reconciliation was the chairman of the PPP.

To be called 'selected' after decades of political victimization is unfair. Our senators were intimidated and harassed to not vote for Mr Gilani; outrageous bribes were offered to our people but they remained committed to democracy. Is this how people are 'selected'?

The language of 'backstabbing' and 'dhoka' in the discussion on the recent Senate elections is regrettable. The first sign of mistrust was when the PML-N said that they had extra votes in the Punjab Assembly and the PPP should field a candidate which PML-N would support and later PML-N leaders became unreachable and we found out about an arrangement they had reached with the PTI and PML-Q. Similarly, the PDM agreed to a formula that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the PPP and PML-N would field candidates for technocrats and the ANP and JUI-F on a general seat in the Senate; however, the PML-N breached the agreement by fielding a candidate on a general seat resulting in the victory of the PTI government candidate.

The accusation of receiving votes from the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) have been repeated uncritically. Dilawar Khan, a former PML-N senator and now independent senator sitting on the opposition benches, was asked for his vote – as was our right. We neither asked for nor needed the votes of BAP members to win. It is unfortunate that those repeating these allegations have decided not to look at facts.

There is much more that can be said as a response to the accusations but we don’t want to get distracted from fighting an illegitimate, illegal and corrupt regime in power. We intend to restore this confidence and spirit of cooperation and bring a vote of no confidence against selected Chairman Senate Sanjrani and also fight on all legal forums. The foundation of the PDM was based on equality, mutual respect and struggle for democracy and only by adhering to these values can the PDM not only survive but thrive in the future too.

The writer is a member of the PPP.

Twitter: @KasimGillani