Is PML-N seeking loyalty oaths from ‘its’ candidates?

Party is seeking assurances from its members, all of whom are contesting for Senate as independents

Sardar Sikander February 26, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Fearful of losing its candidates in ‘horse-trading’, the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) de facto chief Nawaz Sharif is seeking an ‘oath of allegiance’ from its senate candidates, who were given tickets by the party, but are now contesting the elections as independents, sources told The Express Tribune.

PML-N is seeking  ‘concrete’ assurances from it's from its members contesting the upper house polls independently — that they would not change loyalties and ‘return’ to the party’s fold in case of winning the elections.

The reported development surfaces at a time when reports suggest that the party leadership fears that its members contesting the elections independently would allow the opposition parties to ‘bargain’ with these candidates and to buy their loyalties against their own party—a dreaded scenario that could open ‘floodgates’ of horse-trading.

A total of 105 candidates are contesting the Senate polls out of which 21 are members of the PML-N who will contest the polls independently after an Election Commission of Pakistan’s order (ECP).

In this backdrop, former PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has decided to seek assurances ‘on oath’ from the contesting candidates that they would officially opt for joining PML-N after winning the Senate elections and would not join any other party, sources said.

PML-N Senate nominees to contest as independent candidates: ECP

The PML-N supremo recently held meetings at Punjab House in Islamabad and his Jati Umra residence in Lahore where he reportedly tasked PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq to have all the independent candidates assemble at Jati Umra. The sources added that the candidates would reportedly be asked to pledge an oath of their unconditional loyalty to PML-N.

In addition, the candidates would also be offered ‘other benefits’ for staying loyal to their party and not join any other political party, PML-N insiders informed.

The idea to seek assurances on oath surfaced during a recent meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif, sources said.

They said that the ECP’s decision to allow the candidates to contest the polls as independents not only raised eyebrows among public and political circles but also mounted concerns of PML-N leadership which believes that the pre-poll scenario, which was already marked with the reports of massive horse-trading, was proving “far more problematic than expected.”

A PML-N senator, requesting anonymity, said opposition parties, especially the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), were trying to ‘get hold of’ the independent candidates in a bid to change their loyalties in return of ‘lucrative favours.’

For PML-N, Shehbaz is the obvious choice

“For PML-N leadership, the ECP’s decision not to include N-League in the Senate polls after Sharif’s disqualification is perceived as an orchestrated move to keep the ruling party out of the electoral process,” he said.

Alarmed by the situation, the party leadership has also instructed its parliamentary leaders to reach out to party lawmakers to ensure that they would only vote for the PML-N in the Senate polls, sources said. PM Abbasi, in his capacity as Leader of the House in the NA, is also playing an instrumental role in a bid to prevent the N-Leaguers from horse-trading, they added.

Earlier, on Thursday, PML-N’s senior leaders including Raja Zafarul Haq went to the ECP and conveyed to the election authorities that an acting party chief would be appointed soon (after Sharif’s disqualification). They had asked the body that Haq should be allowed to authorise PML-N nominations for Senate elections till the appointment of acting PML-N chief.

However, the ECP rejected this request and later issued a notification that PML-N candidates who were issued tickets by Sharif, the former party chief, were allowed to contest Senate polls as independent candidates.

“We had never seen this coming,” said the PML-N source.  “The horse-trading thing and all that—we were already having a  tough time ensuring sufficient support to win seats from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and now—our party members contesting Senate polls independently— that is simply unnerving,” the PML-N source said.

PML-N fails to find a candidate for CM

On the hand, PML-N chairman Raja Zafarul Haq said there is no truth in the reports that party leadership would summon its members to contest the Senate elections independently to ensure their loyalties towards the party.

“The nominations of PML-N candidates for Senate elections were approved by Sharif. Now that our party has not been allowed to contests Senate polls, our candidates have to contest independently. But that doesn’t matter since these candidates have the basic membership of PML-N and most of them are our time-tested aides who have been loyal to Mian sahib and PML-N for decades. Together, we have been through thick and thin,” he told The Express Tribune.

On the reports of horse-trading, he said, “Our party has seen worse during Musharraf era and braved the odds. This is not something new for us.”

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