ISLAMABAD: In the latest sign of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s hardening stance on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation issue, the largest opposition group in parliament on Thursday said “his [Sharif’s] clinging to power will have deleterious effect on parliament”.
The PPP had played a crucial role in saving the PML-N government back in 2014 when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek were exerting pressure on the government through their sit-ins at the Constitutional Avenue to go. It seems the party is in no mood to rescue the beleaguered prime minister this time.
The majority of its top leadership has been blatantly criticising Sharif since the publication of the JIT report into the Sharif family’s linkage in the Panama Papers earlier this week. No one in the PPP has indicated buying the PML-N’s conspiracy theory so far.
However, former president Asif Ali Zardari, who actually calls the shots in the PPP, is conspicuous by his silence on the issue, though his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is the party chairman, has been publicly espousing the demand for the prime minister’s resignation.
A few days before the JIT submitted its report before the Supreme Court, Zardari left for Dubai.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khrusheed Shah, who was given the task to contact other opposition parties by Bilawal, called a meeting of opposition groups in his chamber today (Friday).
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It will be the first joint huddle of the opposition groups after the JIT report. Most of opposition groups – including the PTI – will be attending the meeting.
The PTI on the other hand has been trying to muster support of smaller groups under its banner primarily on a one-point agenda – to augment pressure on the prime minister to step down.
Competition between the PPP and the PTI to lead a protest movement under one banner if the Panamagate case lingers in the court would pose a challenge to the unity of the opposition.
The PPP has already made it clear that it does not want dissolution of the assemblies and the government calling early elections.
This stance clearly indicates that the PPP will not be in a mood to use the extreme option of resigning from assemblies like the PTI did in 2014 at the time of the sit-ins that continued for four months.
“We want the PML-N to complete its full five-year term. They can elect any other MNA of their party as new prime minister for the remaining tenure,” Shah replied when asked if his party was in favour of early elections.
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Dr Babar Awan, who has recently joined the PTI and is counsel for Imran Khan in various litigations, in his media talk on Thursday demanded dissolution of the assemblies and snap polls. Some PTI leaders were quick to distance the party from his stance. However, party supremo Imran Khan has yet to comment on the matter.
Before formally starting his presser, Shah clarified that his stance should be considered as the party’s stance. The opposition leader warned the government against going for a confrontation with the judiciary.
“The PPP will stand behind institutions,” he remarked, implying that his party supports the JIT report. Shah was among those PPP leaders who opposed the JIT at the inception.
He is contrite now. When his attention was drawn to his earlier stance, Shah said: “This is entirely a new situation. The JIT has done creditable work and we should appreciate their painstaking effort.”
The PPP was initially not in favour of taking the matter to court when the PTI and some other parties filed their petitions before the Supreme Court last year and the top court entertained those pleas under Article 184-3, using special powers the apex court has been bestowed with in the Constitution.
The two parties could not go along last year after working together for a few months on the terms of reference for a proposed probe into the Panama leaks.
When the PTI gave the call to lock down the federal capital in September last year, the PPP conveniently distanced itself from it.
The PTI could not succeed in galvanising enough street power for its November 2 lockdown, partly due to the government’s highhandedness.
However, it succeeded in drawing the attention of the apex court towards the deteriorating political situation. An impetuous PTI filed a petition, seeking disqualification of the prime minister and his close relative lawmakers.
PPP leaders were again not in favour of the PTI’s move. Prominent PPP lawmakers like Aitzaz Ahsan and others were of the view that it would have been better had the matter been handled politically.
The PTI succeeded in what was being considered a big gamble at that time. Now that it comes to get the credit of the evolving situation, it would be a big question if the PTI would be ready to share it with other political parties, especially the PPP, which it considers as its main political rival after the ruling PML-N.
The two parties had been critical of each other in the past. Their past record shows ceasefires did not last long. Their unity will be once again a big question, especially when the PTI is trying to capture the ground the PPP had lost in Punjab by welcoming potential electable candidates from the formal ruling party to join Imran Khan in bulk.
The PPP was astute in calling the meeting of opposition parties in Shah’s chamber in the Parliament House where it holds the coveted office of leader of the opposition in both houses of parliament.
The PTI has confirmed it would participate in the meeting. However sources in the PTI say there are two strong groups in the party -- one wants an amicable relationship with the PPP, while the other is against it, making the patch-up more challenging in the long run.