The gesture was reconciliatory, and rare.
A province up in arms over the power crisis accorded a warm reception to the man who is largely believed to be responsible for the crisis – former water and power minister, and the incumbent Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
Along with office bearers of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), cabinet members of the Punjab government, belonging to the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), received Prime Minister Ashraf on his first visit to Lahore since becoming the premier.
That also made him the only PPP leader to receive an official reception and protocol in recent times – both President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani were denied official protocol in Punjab for quite some time.
Prime Minister Ashraf appreciated the gesture, and returned the favour: Extending an invitation to the opposition parties to join him in consultation in the selection of a chief election commissioner (CEC).
Earlier, the PPP and PML-N had arrived at a dead end over the appointment of a CEC, with ousted premier Gilani and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan sending individual candidates lists to the parliamentary committee on the appointment of a CEC. The committee, however, has not yet agreed upon a single name for the post of CEC.
Earlier, when premier Ashraf had visited the city as water and power minister, he was not extended an official reception purportedly for his statements against the construction of Kalabagh Dam. This time, however, the prime minister remained silent on the issue.
Provincial minister for planning and development, Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, and senior adviser to the chief minister Senator Zulfiqar Khosa, along with Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khan Khosa received the premier on his arrival.
The premier presided over a party meeting at the Governor House. According to an official handout, Prime Minister Ashraf stressed that the PPP government is committed to impartial elections. “The opposition should come forward for the selection of the CEC, which is vital for a smooth and reliable electoral process ahead,” he said.
Prime Minister Ashraf also rejected politics of confrontation amongst institutions and political parties, saying it is detrimental to the cause of democracy. “I hold the governments of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in high esteem and respect their mandates,” he said.
He also welcomed the Punjab government’s gesture of officially receiving him on his arrival in the city.
Prime Minister Ashraf said that overcoming the energy crisis is the top-most priority of his government, adding that the power shortfall has been reduced considerably due to recent initiatives by the government.
Later, talking to the media at a wedding reception, Prime Minister Ashraf said that the current year is an election year.
Time to scuffle with each other has gone, the premier said, adding that he, along with all opposition parties, will have to make a commitment of maintaining the rule of law, respect the judiciary, parliament and the National Assembly since this is the only way of survival of democratic forces.
Inside the PML-N
The granting of official reception and protocol to Prime Minister Ashraf was not an arbitrary move.
Sources in the PML-N told The Express Tribune that party president Nawaz Sharif held meetings at Raiwind two days ago which lasted six hours.
Among the decisions arrived at during the meeting, one was to accept and give official protocol to Prime Minister Ashraf in Punjab.
Earlier, the PML-N had decided to abandon giving official protocol to Gilani and President Zardari since the party believed they are involved in corruption and obeying the rulings of the apex court, Chaudhry Ghafoor told The Express Tribune.
The party has now decided to move forward, he added.
Meanwhile, sources said the PML-N has prepared a list of issues to be negotiated with the PPP, including the CEC, appointment of a caretaker set up including a prime minister and chief ministers, and the announcement of a date for the upcoming general elections.
“Ashraf’s invitation of negotiations with the opposition has been taken by PML-N’s leadership as a positive step” Ghafoor said.
Later at night, Prime Minister Asharf laid a floral wreath at the Data Darbar. He will meet journalists, lawyers and other party officials at the Governor House on Saturday before returning to Islamabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.
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