ISLAMABAD: In a major reshuffle in PML-N’s provincial chapter in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the ruling party is struggling to counter the political dominance of its arch rival, the PTI, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday removed the party’s provincial leadership and replaced it with his close aides at the centre.
In a meeting, Sharif, who is also president of his own faction of the PML, appointed Ameer Muqam as the PML-N’s president and Murtaza Javed Abbasi as general secretary. Muqam is PM’s Adviser while Abbasi is deputy speaker of the National Assembly.
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They have respectively replaced Pir Sabir Shah and Rehmat Salam Khattak.
The development comes as a preparatory move leading up to the general elections scheduled for next year, and at a time when PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari is eyeing to improve his party’s otherwise ceremonial position in the province.
Sources in the PML-N said the PM’s decision to replace the party leadership with more ‘active and influential’ political figures was taken keeping in view primarily the PTI factor, adding the ruling party was undeterred by Zardari’s efforts to unite the PPP in K-P.
“The PPP is not in a position to ring alarm bells for us anywhere outside Sindh,” said a senior PML-N leader.
Problems could, however, mount for the ruling party in case the PPP and the PTI inch closer in K-P in order to give a tough time to the PML-N.
Abbasi’s elevation as the party’s general secretary has not gone down well with political circles with many questioning the move. Experts and politicians argue that the decision is likely to affect neutrality, impartiality and objectivity demanded of him (Abbasi) to run the affairs of the National Assembly as deputy speaker of the lower house.
“Never has a speaker or deputy speaker, especially of the NA, been assigned an important party position because it could potentially compromise their position in running the affairs of the house,” constitutional expert and former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad told The Express Tribune.
“Constitutionally, the rules are silent regarding party portfolio assigned to the speaker or the deputy speaker. Morally and ethically, however, the head of the legislative houses tend to avoid accepting such responsibilities since openly siding with any party is unbecoming of a speaker or deputy speaker of the National Assembly or provincial assemblies or chairman Senate.”
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K-P’s Information Minister and senior PTI leader Mushtaq Ghani also expressed surprise over the move.
“It’s really strange that they didn’t find any suitable candidate for the general secretary’s slot except a man who is the deputy speaker of the NA. This is a clear case of conflict of interest. The general secretary is bound to serve his party’s interests whether he is inside the assembly or outside.”
The Express Tribune tried to contact Murtaza Abbasi for comments on the issue but he was not available.
Ameer Muqam defended the party’s decision. “He (Abbasi) is deputy speaker of the NA whereas he is given party responsibility in the province. There is no conflict of interest since he is not the deputy speaker of the K-P Assembly.”
PML-N sources said the prime minister decided to pick Muqam as the provincial party chief on Maryam Nawaz’s advice.
“He is in good books of both the PM and his daughter,” said a source privy to the issue.
Interestingly, Maryam, who had lately distanced herself from the party and public meetings, attended Monday’s meeting along with her husband Captain (retd) Safdar.
On the other hand, the decision to elevate Abbasi as general-secretary bore more relevance with appointing a candidate from the lobby of PM’s Aviation Adviser Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, it is learnt.
Meanwhile, PML-N workers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa celebrated the appointment of Amir Muqam as party’s provincial new president.
“It was a difficult decision since former party president Sabir Shah has been associated with the PML-N for decades as against Maqam who has been in the party for less than five years,” a senior party member told The Express Tribune, adding, “But Muqam knows how to reactivate workers and deal the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and other political parties in K-P.”
Another senior party member and Muqam’s critic stated that party leadership wanted the PML-N to flourish.
“Yes, I have always been Muqam’s critic, but the ground reality is different and I think the party leadership made the decision for the party’s future.”
“He [Shah] is a seasoned politician but it does not mean you should show up during general elections since I don’t remember Shah held any political gathering after general elections held in 2013,” he said.
When contacted, PML-N provincial information secretary Nasir Musazai termed the announcement a beginning towards the end.
“I know Muqam was doing everything for the party but lacked the front seat and with the announcement, he is in the driving seat now,” he said, adding Maqam knew how to give tough time to the opposition parties.
[With additional input from Umer Farooq in Peshawar]
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