ISLAMABAD: After apparent failure of top federal government functionaries to have the ongoing defections in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz stopped, the ruling party leadership is now ‘personally’ reaching out to party lawmakers to prevent the N-League from further split and to garner support for the passage of new federal budget.
PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif is not satisfied with the role of federal government officials, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his aides in particular, in preventing defections in the party and he is personally holding meetings with N-League MNAs from different parts of the country, seeking their support for the passage of the Finance Bill 2018, discussions with reliable party sources suggest.
Not long ago, the PML-N’s top leadership had decided to take measures for the passage of the federal budget.
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According to sources, PM Abbasi’s decision to expand the cabinet by inducting six ministers – five federal and one state – was part of the policy to woo the party’s internal lobbies.
In addition, hefty funds are said to have been released for PML-N MNAs and its allies – including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party – in different constituencies in a bid to ensure support of the right number of lawmakers in the passage of the federal budget.
In addition, PM Abbasi, in his capacity as Leader of the House in the National Assembly and chief of PML-N’s Parliamentary Party, also visited different parts of the country and held meetings with party’s local leaderships, assuring to redress their concerns on given issues and urging them to stay united in the PML-N.
However, the federal government’s efforts to stop defections from the party do not appear to be yielding results. Up to 20 lawmakers from southern Punjab – including five MNAs and 15 MPAs from the Punjab Assembly – have announced merging their group with PTI.
This is said to have mounted concerns of Shehbaz who believes that defections with him at the helm of party affairs are a cause for ‘personal embarrassment’.
“The passage of the budget has never been so tough. He (Shehbaz) is now personally reaching out to the PML-N lawmakers, especially in Punjab, to woo them back and address their concerns.”
In recent days, Shehbaz has held multiple meetings with the disgruntled party leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. In addition, he has also held detailed meetings with party leadership from north and central Punjab in addition to meeting the MNAs from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The main purpose of those meetings is reportedly to persuade the lawmakers to show up at the budget session during the voting stage on May 14.
The source said recent defections, especially those in bulk from southern Punjab, and Chaudhry Nisar’s recent statement that up to 45 MNAs were willing to leave PML-N but he (Nisar) stopped them from doing so gave credence to reports that the PML-N MNAs in huge number were quietly planning boycotting the May 14 session along with opposition parties to prevent the government from passing the budget.
When approached, Provincial Law Minister and senior leader PML-N Punjab chapter Rana Sanaullah said the PML-N is in a comfortable position to have the federal budget passed from the National Assembly and the provincial budget from Punjab Assembly.
“We are the majority party at the Centre and we have overwhelming majority in Punjab. Even if a few lawmakers have parted ways, this does not bring us into minority.”
On the defections, he said, “We all know where the remote control of these puppets is operated from. The efforts to break the PML-N have failed in the past and they’ll fail now,” he told The Express Tribune by phone.
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A senior PML-N leader said the government is ‘extremely concerned’ over whether it would secure the desired simple majority to get the Finance Bill 2018 passed from the National Assembly – “not because the opposition is not ready to support the federal budget, but also because a large scale defections are being feared in our own ranks.”
The source said the PML-N government managed to pass the last federal budget 2017-18 amid boycott from the opposition.
“This time it’s different – there are defections and things are likely to get worse in the days to come.”
In case of a large scale defections or lawmakers in considerable number tending to skip the budget session at the time of voting, the PML-N would struggle to secure the simple majority either due to lack of quorum that could lead to adjournment of the session or due to lack of simple majority leading to the government's defeat in seeking the National Assembly's nod over the passage of the budget.