ISLAMABAD: Alarmed by the growing popularity of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), two bitter rivals of the past have started warming up to each other.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif has conveyed to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership that his party will not obstruct the Senate election scheduled for March next year. As a quid pro quo, he demanded that the government announce fresh parliamentary elections immediately after the Senate polls.
Officials from both the PPP and PML-N told The Express Tribune that the two parties were readjusting their positions on the fluid political chessboard and might reach an understanding soon. They admitted that the ‘unmatched’ rise of the PTI was the trigger behind this.
Officials said Sharif’s message was delivered to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani by ‘top PML-N leaders’ a week ago. The prime minister then shared it with the PPP leadership at the meetings of its parliamentary party and core committee.
Both sides confirmed that they have negotiated in recent weeks, but did not say their talks were meant specifically to evolve a consensus on checking Imran Khan’s growing popularity.
“This is a proposal from Mian Sahib (Sharif) … but has never been a point of discussion for us,” said PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira. “Let’s see what happens,” was his answer when asked whether Khan’s gains could draw the two parties closer to each other.
A spokesman for Sharif’s party said things “might change, as they always can in politics”, but refused to comment on whether the PML-N had formally conveyed to the government its support for the Senate elections.
Insiders from both sides said Sharif’s message to the government was very clear. “The establishment is behind Khan. If we continue to fight each other, we will be the losers in the end. We are the target of the establishment,” an associate quoted Sharif as telling the PPP leadership in the message sent through interlocutors.
A PPP leader, who wished not to be named, put the development in these words: “Many changes are in the offing and what may soon emerge is an understanding among all mainstream leaders to fight it out together.”
PPP and PML-N leaders said discussions were not focused on forging a formal electoral alliance, but reaching an understanding to support each other’s candidates in what they would present to the public as an anti-establishment force. They said there had been no discussion about any potential power-sharing formula after the elections.
“At the moment, the most important thing is to foil the establishment’s designs to make us irrelevant … we won’t let this happen,” said a PML-N leader, confirming secret negotiations aimed at countering PTI’s growing popularity.
He said the party’s top leaders had been thinking of resigning to dislodge the government and seek fresh polls, but not anymore. He said the party had decided not to block the Senate polls that are expected to give the PPP a numerical strength in the upper house close to a simple majority.
“We think we are up against a bigger evil… and to counter that we have to tolerate a smaller one,” the party insider said.
In return, both the PPP and PML-N members added, the government might announce snap polls some time after presenting next year’s budget in June 2012.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2011.