LAHORE: After a rather long wait, the Election Commission of Pakistan finally selected Hassan Askari Rizvi for the position of caretaker Punjab chief minister fueling another political brawl between Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.
The ECP earlier on Thursday nominated Dr Hasan Askari as caretaker Punjab CM after a parliamentary committee failed to reach consensus over the proposed candidates during the stipulated time period under the Constitution. Multiple names from both sides were brought on the table, but as talks ended in no clear result, the names were forwarded to the ECP, which included Justice (retd) Sair Ali and Admiral (retd) M Zakaullah as suggested by the government whereas the opposition proposed Ayaz Amir and Dr Hasan Askari for the interim position.
However, stumped by the selection of opposition pitched Askari as the caretaker chief minister, the PML-N has not only rejected the appointment but has also demanded him to voluntarily step down from the position to save the general elections from becoming controversial.
Meanwhile, the nominated Punjab CM Hasan Askari has reportedly rejected PML-N’s call of stepping back from the coveted position and said that his opinions and views are unbiased. He said that he would take on the challenge and ensure free and fair elections.
Prior to the previous government’s hue and cry over his nomination, Askari had said that his basic responsibilities as CM would be to support the ECP in holding free and fair elections that aren’t deemed objectionable by any political party.
Regarding the elections being held on time, he said that if the ECP moves the dates of the elections, the government shall assist accordingly. He further added that the date of elections is at the sole discretion of the commission and the interim government has nothing to do with it. He also indicated that he would too, similar to the caretaker prime minister keep a small cabinet.
PML-N sulks over selection
Objecting to the decision of the ECP, a press conference was held outside the PML-N secretariat on Thursday, presided by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi who was flanked by former federal ministers Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Khurram Dastgir and former Punjab Minister Rana Sana Ullah.
Addressing the press conference Abbasi said the decision to make Hasan Askari caretaker CM would cast a shadow of doubt over the entire election process. He said that the caretaker setup should be led by a person who is neutral and unbiased and Hasan Askari’s tweets, articles and TV stints, all exhibit his biases and partially.
“Askari is not only biased but also against the very democratic process”, warned the former PM adding that the nominated chief minister had earlier given precedents of delay in the elections. To add weight to his claims, Abbasi mentioned that Askari had written an article for a foreign media outlet in which he stated that parties were okay with one to two months delays in elections.
“He has given several reasons against holding elections in summers including unpleasant climate, however, Askari doesn’t know that these reasons alone aren’t enough for delaying elections according to the Constitution”, jibed Abbasi alleging that the PTI candidate had no knowledge of laws and the Constitution.
The former premier also said that having a contentious figure lead the province into elections casts severe doubts over the chances of neutral polls, terming Askari’s selection as unfortunate and demanded the ECP to reconsider their decision and select a fresh candidate for the post who fulfills the criteria of being neutral and unbiased, “just like the people we suggested”, concluded Abbasi.
Meanwhile, former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique demanded Hasan Askari to withdraw his name and save the general elections from becoming notorious. “We respect him but disagree with his political disposition”, said Rafique adding that Askari gives an outlook of a PTI supporter.
Former interior minister Ashan Iqbal also addressing the conference appealed the PML-N workers to protect their votes and not let anyone steal the people’s mandate.
Later in the day, Ahsan tweeted “Nasir Khosa showed dignity to withdraw his candidature when PTI withdrew its endorsement. Will Hasan Askari Rizvi follow suit? Controversial caretaker CM will make election controversial.”
Similarly, PML-N President and former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif expressing his concerns on twitter said “Selection of Prof Askari as caretaker CM by ECP does not fulfil the criterion of neutrality. He is a known critic of PMLN & his position vis-a-vis PMLN is clearly biased. He also advocated delay in elections. With his appointment, the image of ECP is going to be severely damaged.”
Contrasting PML-N’s concerns, opposition parties have welcomed the appointment of Dr Rizvi as the caretaker chief minister of Punjab.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, former opposition leader of the Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed said that PML-N is panicking because they have seen their defeat in the upcoming general election. He said former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other party leaders reaction over his appointment is understandable as their leadership is trying to make the elections controversial.
“PML-N is trying to create a situation in which general elections could be delayed”, claimed Rasheed.
The PTI leader said PML-N’s reaction is part of former premier Nawaz Sharif’s narrative, which is against almost all state institutions. Rasheed highlighted that Dr Naqvi is a learned person who has been awarded Sitar-e-Imtiaz for his excellent services. The ECP had selected the right person for Punjab interim chief minister’s portfolio. “He has no soft corner for any political group. The other day, in a TV talk show he strongly criticised us for backing out on Khosa’s contention as Punjab interim chief minister,” he maintained.
Moreover, Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Liaqat Baloch said the issue of selecting interim chief minister would never have gone to the ECP if both the sides had shown maturity. “First, it is the defeat of both the ruling and opposition party. Later it is the defeat of the parliamentary committee which took three days to deliberate”.
Now when the ECP has selected a person from the proposed name there is no question of criticism as both parties have already surrendered this right by refereeing the matter to the commission.
It is important to mention here that Government and Opposition at one point on May 29 agreed on the name of retired bureaucrat Nasir Mehmood Khosa during the first round of discussions between the Shehbaz Sharif and Mehmoodur Rashid. The name of Nasir Mehmood Khosa was suggested by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf however in less than 24 hours PTI had a change of hearts and withdrew from its own nominated candidate Khosa citing immense public pressure. As both the parties failed to develop further consensus in a parliamentary committee session, the matter subsequently went from the court of the government and opposition to a parliamentary committee and then to the ECP, which selected Askari for the position.