ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is facing opposition from within the party’s ranks over their preferred nominee for Senate chairman, as senior party leaders oppose the idea of continuing confrontation with the security establishment.
In addition, uncertainty over the party’s ability to win the chairmanship despite having the highest Senate delegation is also factoring into discussions.
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and their ‘likeminded’ allies including Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and some other close aides are in favour of Pervaiz Rashid being nominated for the top job in the Senate, while other party leaders are averse to Rashid in view of his strained relationship with the security establishment, background discussions with well-placed PML-N members suggest.
New party President and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, and most of the senior members of the party’s Punjab chapter are in favour of nominating Leader of the House in Senate and PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq instead, given that he is acceptable to both the government and opposition members and enjoys good ties with the establishment.
The internal rift in the party is said to be the main reason the party has failed to finalise its nominee for Senate chairman, despite multiple rounds of consultations. Meetings are frequently taking place at the residence of Chaudhry Munir Hidayatullah in Islamabad and Jati Umra in Raiwind.
The internal party rift is also cited as another key reason for the PML-N’s offer to support Raza Rabbani if the PPP nominates him.
Railways Minister Saad Rafique is playing an active role in ensuring PML-N’s numerical strength in the party to get N-League’s chairman elevated. For this purpose, he has reached out to independent candidates, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl. However, sources said the political parties had conveyed to Rafique that they would not support a ‘controversial’ figure like Rashid.
In October 2016, Rashid had to step down as information minister due to the Dawn Leaks controversy, amid accusations that Rashid still vehemently denies.
“There is an element in the party backed by our top command who believes that Rashid sacrificed for the party and remained loyal to Sharif through thick and thin, but has not been rewarded ‘in a big way’. The likes of Rashid, Nehal Hashmi, Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry are patronised by the same group,” said a party source who admitted to opposing Rashid’s candidature.
Till the recent past, Zafarul Haq was regarded as the obvious choice for chairman, but after the escalation of tensions between the party and state institutions, Sharif has decided to go with a candidate who holds a ‘tough’ stance regarding state institutions, including the security establishment and the judiciary.
Some circles in the PML-N also support Mushahid Hussain’s candidature, given that he also enjoys a good reputation in government and opposition circles, but Sharif and his aides have put weight behind bringing a ‘hardliner’ at the helm.
Due to the internal rift, Sharif has not given the go-ahead to Rashid’s candidature, fearing that the ruling party may not attain the required 53 votes out of 104 to have its chairman.
“The recent instances of horse-trading in the Senate elections have greatly unnerved the party’s top command, and if a controversial candidate is lobbied for, there could be defections against the party leadership’s choice,” the source said.
Where ‘N’ stands
Meanwhile, a number of party leaders – including Rashid – claimed that the party is still focused on assessing its position in the Senate rather than considering names for chairman.
He said no name had been decided yet. “A name would only be finalised after consultation with our allied parties.”
He said the party’s willingness to back Raza Rabbani was because of his stand for democracy, for rule of law, and for the supremacy of the Constitution. He said Asif Zardari did not respect or appreciate Rabbani’s commitment to Pakistan’s democratic system, and that was why he rejected his name.
According to sources, PML-N, despite being the leading party in the Senate, still does not have the required number of votes to get their chairman elected on its own. Instead of facing the ignominy of defeat, the party wants to pitch a candidate with consensus. They said it would not only be face-saving but also allow the party to win more hearts in the Senate. They said the party as yet was considering not to pitch its own candidate in the field.
Mushahidullah Khan said they had the numbers on their side and would be able to pitch a winning candidate. “Which party the candidate comes from is not important,” he added.
He said that they would pitch their candidate in consultation with allied parties, adding that they had the support of the National Party and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, having five seats each, and the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal, having four seats.
He said that alone brought their party, in support with allies, on a par with the probable alliance of their opposition parties, including the PPP, the PTI and some supporting FATA and Balochistan senators.
He added that assurances of support had also been given by the MQM, which had five seats, and the PML-F and the Awami National Party, having one senator each. He said this, clubbed with PML-N’s 32 senators, was enough votes to win.