ISLAMABAD: Two key opposition parties decided on Monday that a meeting of a grand opposition would be convened on July 13 to map out a strategy on two pressing issues: the Panamagate scandal and makeup of the country’s top poll supervisory body. The opposition also snubbed reports of dissent in their ranks on a Panamagate inquiry, warning government ministers against ‘spreading rumours’.
“Instead of driving a wedge into the opposition, the prime minister should clear his and his family’s names of the multibillion-rupee corruption scandal,” Khursheed Shah, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, told journalists after the huddle at his chamber in the Parliament House on Monday.
Panamagate inquiry: Opposition announces boycott of talks on ToRs with govt
Rumour also has it that the Pakistan Peoples Party, to which Shah belongs, will soften its stance on the Panamagate scandal in exchange for some concessions from the government. Shah, however, insisted that it would never happen. Some senior leaders of the PPP, including former prime ministers Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and former petroleum ministers, are facing corruption charges in courts.
Premier Nawaz Sharif is said to have tasked his top aides, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in particular, to re-engage the opposition to develop consensus on a mode and scope of inquiry into the revelations in the Panama Papers that hundreds of Pakistani politicians, including the Sharif family, secreted their money in offshore tax havens.
But Shah said it would depend on the government’s attitude. “The prime minister has been named in the Panama Papers. And we want him to clear his name,” he added. “The prime minister should intervene to break deadlock over the terms of reference (ToRs) for a proposed Panama Papers inquiry commission.”
A parliamentary committee tasked to draft ToRs could not narrow down differences in eight sessions as both the government and the opposition refused to budge on their respective positions. This led the opposition to walk out of the parliamentary panel because they believe the government side wanted to save the Sharif family.
Monday’s meeting at Shah’s chamber was attended by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi and leader of the opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan. “We are disappointed at the government approach towards Panamagate inquiry,” Ahsan said, adding government ministers wanted to exclude the Sharif family from inquiry. “They [prime minister and his family] have enough to hide from the nation. That’s why they are shying away from an independent investigation,” he added.
The two parties have given their cadres a heads-up for street agitation. But PTI’s Qureshi ruled out any undemocratic move to topple the government, though his party’s chairman, Imran Khan, had of late been calling for the prime minister to step aside as he had lost moral grounds to stay in power after the Panama Papers revelations. “If the deadlock persists, opposition parties will chart out a joint strategy to stage countrywide protests. But our future course of action will strictly democratic,” Shah said.
Panamagate scandal: Bilawal warns government of street agitation
Besides the Panamagate scandal, Shah, Qureshi and Ahsan also discussed prospective candidates for appointment in the Election Commission of Pakistan. The two parties, however, did not share their picks with the media. They said that they would consult all opposition parties represented in parliament before forwarding the names to the relevant parliamentary committee.
The country’s top poll supervisory body became virtually non-functional after four of its provincial members retired on June 13. Qureshi told journalists that the PPP and the PTI wanted a sovereign and independent Election Commission that could hold free and fair elections in the country. Shah added that the opposition would nominate ‘clean and clear’ candidates.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2016.
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