Zafarul Haq in the run for Senate chairmanship

PML-N unlikely to support Raza Rabbani if fielded again by PPP

Sardar Sikander February 15, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has finalised the name of party chairman Raja Zafarul Haq as its candidate for the post of Senate chairman and has started lobbying in this regard.

Haq is currently the Leader of the House in Senate whose 54 members are scheduled to be elected on March 3. Half of the upper house members are retiring on March 11.

Following several rounds of consultation among PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other senior leaders, the party has decided to have Haq elevated as Senate chairman in case it attains maximum seats in the upper house.

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Haq is regarded as one of the Sharif’s trusted confidantes who stood by him through thick and thin, especially when the party faced serious challenges during the Musharraf era.

As leader of the house, Haq has been instrumental in getting some key bills sailed through the upper house including the Election Bill, 2017, which paved the way for Sharif’s re-election as PML-N president after his disqualification by Supreme Court in the Panamagate case.

When approached, Haq neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

“The time has not arrived yet. Once the Senate elections are held, our party attains majority and the stage arrives to elect the new chairman Senate then the party leadership will decide about it,” he told The Express Tribune over the telephone.

Recently, the outgoing Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani submitted his nomination papers for re-election as Senator amidst reports that the PML-N may agree to Rabbani’s re-election as Senate chairman in case he manages to retain his seat.

However, sources in the PML-N said the party would resist if the Pakistan People Party (PPP) decided to field Rabbani or any other candidate for the upper house chairmanship.

Asked if the PML-N would support Rabbani yet again, Haq said: “We will see what to do if such a situation arises.”

Requesting anonymity, a PML-N senator said the party leadership agreed to Rabbani’s re-election as chairman back in the year 2015 because the PPP was a majority party in the Senate then even though the PML-N had a majority in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies of Punjab and Balochistan.

Prior to Rabbani, it was Nayyar Bokhari and Farooq H Naek, all from the PPP, who served as Senate chairmen.

“Now, it’s our turn. In the past, we took a decision, in principle, to support the PPP senators to head the upper house given that the PPP had a majority in the Senate,” the source said.

He said the PML-N leadership expected that Rabbani would not contest the Senate polls after staying as chairman for three years. The PML-N would contest him in case he was nominated by his party for chairmanship after the Senate polls, he added.

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Prior to this, reports were doing the rounds that PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari was ‘bargaining’ with the PML-N for the elevation of his sister Faryal Talpur as Senate chairperson.

In December 2017, the PML-N and the PPP were said to have reached an underhand deal, according to which the PPP supported legislation on constituencies’ delimitation in the Senate and in return received ‘concrete’ assurances from the PML-N for a few seats in the Senate from Punjab’s quota and some seats in general elections from south Punjab.

It is also believed that the PPP wanted the PML-N to agree on Talpur’s elevation as chairperson. But Sharif did not agree to it after which the PPP reportedly lobbied to send the PML-N government in Balochistan Assembly packing in order to bring a favourable government set-up in the province to win Senate seats from there.

Sources said after the Balochistan Assembly debacle, it is unlikely that the reported deal between the two parties on Senate elections would be materialised.

“There had been an informal understanding between the PML-N and the PPP that both would not act to destabilise the governments of one another. The PPP broke this accord. There are no concessions for the PPP in the Senate polls from Punjab’s quota or elsewhere now,” said one of the close aides of Sharif, wishing to be kept unnamed.