Internal divide, indecision cost PML-N Senate chairmanship

Published: March 16, 2018
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Fight breaks out after announcement of Sanjrani's election as Senate chairman. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Fight breaks out after announcement of Sanjrani's election as Senate chairman. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Internal rifts over finalising a candidate, coupled with indecisiveness of the top leadership, are among the major reasons behind the defeat of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s candidate for the Senate chairmanship.

The N-League was mainly divided into two groups regarding its choice for the election of Senate chairman, background discussions with some senior party leaders suggest.

One group favoured a hardliner for the Senate’s top slot while the other one put its weight behind a moderate candidate enjoying acceptability both in the government and opposition ranks, it is learnt.

Both the groups, however, were on the same page regarding the choice of deputy chairman from any of the N-League’s allies.

Not long ago, Raja Zafarul Haq, who was finally nominated by the party leadership at the last hour to run for the Senate chief’s slot, was regarded as an obvious candidate for the Upper House’s top slot given that he remained the leader of the House in previous Senate make-up and is still the incumbent PML-N chairman.

However, the N-League’s leadership, close to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had a change of heart and favoured bringing a hardliner candidate like Pervaiz Rashid or Mushahidullah Khan to serve the party’s interests in the Upper House in the backdrop of the multifaceted challenges the ruling party is faced with instead of elevating a ‘moderate’ like Haq.

The idea to continue confrontation with the security establishment drew opposition from within the party ranks regarding Sharif and his inner circle.

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While PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and their ‘likeminded’ leaders including Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and some other close aides were in favour of Rashid’s candidature, other party leaders did not put weight behind him in view of the controversies involving his relationship with the security establishment, sources say.

New party president Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and most of the party members in Punjab were in favour of elevating Haq as the N-League’s candidate given that he was acceptable to both the government and opposition members and enjoyed good ties with the security brass.

This rift within the party over finalising a candidate is said to be the main reason the party failed to finalise its pick for chairman Senate slot till the last hour despite multiple rounds of consultations.

The sources says the Sharif’s decision to accommodate the Punjab chapter’s demand for the Senate chairman’s slot only aimed at preventing divide in the party.

“Mian sahib decided to accommodate Shehbaz and his inner circle’s demand in Haq’s favour mainly because Shehbaz is the new party chief and he [Sharif] did not deem it suitable to ignore his younger brother’s advice at this point,” said a source in the N-League’s Punjab chapter.

“But it was a half-hearted decision. This was the reason Mian sahib flew to Lahore before the chairman’s election had taken place and asked a junior leader like Mushahidullah to announce Zafarul Haq’s candidature,” the source added.

“But it was probably too late. It created uncertainty and floated the wrong impression that since the N-League lacked the desired majority of 53 votes, it was therefore delaying naming a candidate,” said a close aide of Haq, wishing not to be named.

“Such was the level of indecision that our candidate was not named even when the newly-elected senators had taken oath a few hours before election of the Senate’s chairman and deputy chairman.”

Before Haq’s nomination, Sharif had agreed to National Party chief Hasil Bizenjo’s candidature to run for the Senate chairmanship in a bid to counter the opposition’s move to nominate a candidate from Balochistan, but PML-N leaders were generally of the view that the N-League should field its own candidate and after extensive rounds of deliberations Haq was given the go-ahead.

“The narrative that Balochistan is a deprived province which should be given top-level representation in the Senate especially in the backdrop of the Senate chairman never coming in, was too powerful to be ignored,” said a PML-N cabinet member, requesting anonymity.

“Had Bizenjo been our candidate for the Senate chief, things may have been different, you never know.”

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