ISLAMABAD: In an unusual development, two mainstream opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – appear to be joining hands against the ruling coalition to get the oppositions candidates elected to the two top slots in the Senate.
Wednesday was a hectic day for the two major political parties of the country, both of which remained engaged in overt and covert lobbying for the coveted slots of chairman and deputy chairman of the upper house of parliament.
After a meeting with allied parties, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), however, surprised all by proposing the name of the outgoing chairman Raza Rabbani of the PPP, who has been reelected to the Senate for another six-year term in the March 3 polls.
Rabbani’s excellent track record as lawmaker and his three-year stint as Senate chairman make him acceptable to many. Not only the PML-N and many of its allies like the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the National Party but also the Awami National Party (ANP), the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and others seem to be supportive of Rabbani continuing as chairman.
However, the incumbent chairman’s anti-establishment posture and his principled stance on various issues seem to have become his drawback in the eyes of the top leadership of his own party.
PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has been lobbying for his party but Rabbani is obviously not on top of his probable choices. Three names being circulated in the PPP circles are Senator Saleem Mandviwala, Sherry Rehman and Farooq H Naek. The PPP is still to take a final decision.
The PPP sources said the incumbent chairman is not out of race all together, but his nomination coming from the PML-N has not gone in his fovour. The PPP sources rule out any cooperation with the PML-N at this point of time given that the general elections are round the corner.
The PPP leaders say their party has already suffered a lot because of the so-called policy of reconciliation it had adopted in the past which engendered an impression of friendly opposition.
On Wednesday, besides backchannel contact with the PTI, Zardari had meetings with Maulana Fazlur Rehman and senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
Similarly, the PML-N is approaching different parties and independents to muster support. A delegation of the ruling party also met the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) leaders to seek their support. These contacts will continue for the coming days before these groups finalise names of the candidates.
There are many possible scenarios, one of which is the opposition supporting a PPP candidate from Sindh for the office of chairman and one of the six newly-elected independents from Balochistan for the office of deputy chairman.
The PPP may also field a candidate for the position of chairman while the post of deputy chairman may go to the PTI. Another probability is fielding a candidate not from any of these two main opposition parties but from some smaller group. Another option is the PPP finally backing Rabbani’s candidature.
After contacts with different parties, Zardari had a huddle with key leaders of his party late Wednesday night and got their input on probable nominees from the party. However, it was decided that the party should access the situation before making a final decision.
It is most likely that it would be a contest between the PML-N and its allies and the combined opposition.
Given the strength of the parties on both sides, the role of independents, who have a total strength of 15 in the house of 104, has become the most important. Neither the ruling coalition nor the opposition parties on their own can win the two slots unless they are supported by a majority of independents.
Anwarul Haq Kakar, who leads the group of six independent senators elected from Balochistan, would also be in Islamabad on Thursday. His name is being cited for the office of deputy chairman.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Kakar said the newly-elected independent senators from his province would make their decisions with mutual consultation. He claimed he was not aware if his name had been proposed by any of the parties.
PTI in catch-22 situation
In the emerging situation, Imran Khan’s party is in a fix. They cannot support the PML-N candidate in the given political situation but at the same time it is difficult for them to support the PPP as well.
But, if they do not support the PPP and field their own candidates, it would divide the opposition vote paving the way for the PML-N to get its nominees elected easily.
In the 2015 elections for the chairman and deputy chairman of Senate, the PTI had supported Raza Rabbani for the post of chairman but fielded its own candidate for the office of deputy chairman.