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February 14, 2016

A face saving bid by opposition leader

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February 14, 2016

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ISLAMABAD: Syed Khursheed Shah was required to put up a spirited yet tactful performance in the National Assembly (NA) on Friday. He, however, struggled with facts and figures while employing all the rhetoric and verbosity at his disposal. A repeat performance is expected Monday amidst occasional applause from PPP benches; PTI and rest of the opposition benches often remain calm and quiet during such bravado displays.

As opposition leader he has to come hard on the government, especially when it comes to critical issues like the recent PIA strike and events that followed. But much to his disadvantage, PPP’s old fashioned opposition is these days easily eclipsed by the modern day tactics of PTI chief Imran Khan, his urbanite selfie-loving vocal supporters, and last but not the least, social media strength.

Khan likes to champion the political causes through public meets and press takes. PPP has a limited public turf to play on these days. Still, requisitioning a Lower House session by PPP-led opposition on issue of public importance seemed a welcome departure from standard practice. Otherwise, it was sort of a given that Imran Khan-led PTI enjoys the sole privilege to champion such causes, especially on the road and streets. And PPP was just trying to pass time in the confines of the Parliament House and provincial assembly of Sindh, overly propagating the threats its leadership faces in open, public spaces.

On Friday, Khursheed Shah tried his bit, complaining repeatedly about Premier Nawaz Sharif’s lack of interest to be part of the parliamentary proceedings. Minimal presence of cabinet ministers on the treasury benches, especially heavy weights, was also felt dearly by the worthy opposition leader. In fact, ruling party front benches remained almost empty throughout the proceedings on Friday, but one could see Federal Minister Rana Tanveer smiling in the wings, a presence never felt, or ignored purposely by Mr Shah. It was Rana Tanveer who had seconded allegations of nepotism and corruption hurled against the opposition leader by none other than interior minister of the country, only a few days back, as PPP Sindh and central governments had locked horns over scope of Rangers’ powers. A telephonic call by the interior minister to Sindh CM worked well, though conspiracy theories suggest the matter has been taken care of smoothly as soon as Lyari Gang warlord Uzair Baloch was produced, prompting pointed questions over his alleged links with PPP leadership. Baloch’s volley of confessions, is a regular feature of news channel coverage these days, a situation that has put PPP leaders in defensive mode. But on his part, serious allegations have still not been responded well by the opposition leader on a forum he always prefers – Parliament. The charges came from none other than the two senior most federal ministers of Premier Sharif’s cabinet.

The situation at hand involves his moral standing for occupying opposition leader’s slot in the wake of serious charges of seeking undue advantages from the incumbent government. The situation would have been politically explosive, had the background PPP-PML-N contacts launched for damage control not worked. But perhaps PIA strike came as a ‘divine intervention’. For the time being, Mr Shah’s tactful use of emotion-laden rhetoric in his hour plus speech, to be continued on Monday, perhaps saved the day for him. But he has to come clean, or the ministerial duo be compelled to apologise. Nothing more, nothing less. Else, PTI will come out with fresh charges of “give and take” between PML-N and PPP, they proudly tout as “Muk Muka”.

On Monday too, one expects a better argument from PPP and PTI benches on oil prices in the country, as the recent LNG gas deal with Qatar doesn’t allow opposition members to score solid points even in Senate. Ironically, no matter what he tries to impress his colleagues or the journalists in the press gallery, the rag-tag PPP NA opposition leader finds himself at a natural disadvantage compared to his party colleague and counterpart in the Senate.

Shah knows in his heart of hearts, he is no match to the political class and status Senator Aitzaz Ahsan enjoys as a parliamentarian; PTI Chief Imran Khan’s lack of interest in NA proceedings is however a God-gifted advantage he enjoys. Still PML-N political brains tend to find solace in presence of such an opposition figure. Some ruling party brains however admit had it been Imran Khan occupying the slot, chances of Dharna 1 (for 126 days of 2014) could have been minimised. And the talk of Dharna 2, if it happens by any chance, could have been dismissed easily. PTI falling short of 4-5 seats in the Lower House did not let its chief clinch the opposition leader’s slot. Sheer bad luck that Sheikh Rashid could not persuade MQM to support Imran’s bid for the position.

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