ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties — including the mainstream forces and smaller groups — may have decided to join hands to field a joint opposition candidate for the election of prime minister and Punjab chief minister, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz is struggling to keep the opposition parties united on the issue.
The former ruling party, which is instrumental in its efforts to field a joint candidate, has received a major setback after the Pakistan People’s Party expressed its unwillingness to support any candidate for elections on the slots of the PM and Punjab CM, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Discussions with well-placed leaders in the PML-N suggest that the N-League’s plan to field its candidates for the crucial elections of the leader of the house in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly and garner the support of all the opposition forces seems difficult to materialise as the PPP does not appear inclined to support the N-League’s candidates.
Publicly, however, the PPP leaders have reiterated that they are working to secure ‘numbers’ in the National Assembly to contest the PM’s election.
In this regard, former PM Yousuf Raza Gilani told the media earlier on Monday that the PPP was working to secure the desired strength of 137 votes to get the leader of the house in the National Assembly elected from the forum of the opposition’s grand alliance.
But Gilani did not make such a claim as fielding opposition’s joint candidate for the election of Punjab CM.
Some senior PML-N leaders close to party president Shehbaz Sharif see the PPP’s intentions with scepticism. “They are not serious,” said a PML-N senator, requesting anonymity.
“It seems that the PPP is hardly pursuing a concrete plan for the PM or Punjab CM elections,” the source said.
“Out of obligation, the opposition parties would probably field a joint opposition candidate to contest the election of the PM and Punjab CM — but this would be more of a ceremonial exercise — to build an impression that opposition did not leave space for the PTI and its allies by fielding its candidates for the premier and CM elections,” the politician said.
A PPP leader in Islamabad said the party’s top leadership, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in particular, is concerned about the PPP’s declining political graph in Punjab where the party is reduced to having a ‘skeleton’ political presence.
Bilawal believes that the PPP should sit on the opposition benches at the Centre and in Punjab, and act as a formidable opposition to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led ruling coalition — to boost its vote bank in Punjab, it is learnt.
“There is a strong political wave in Punjab and elsewhere — in favour of PTI. Even if we strongly contest the PTI and its partners in the elections of the PM and Punjab CM and give them tough time, it won’t work. We need to sit on the opposition benches and take on the government— on the issues of public interests to make inroads in Punjab.”
Earlier on Monday, a meeting of senior leaders from the PML-N, the PPP, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal decided to form ‘grand opposition alliance’ and field a joint candidate for the PM and CM Punjab elections.
The meeting was held against the backdrop of the MMA’s announcement to boycott parliament and the provincial assemblies. President PML-N Shehbaz Sharif chaired the huddle.
Reportedly, leaders of the PML-N, the PPP and the ANP conveyed to MMA chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the opposition parties were unanimous in not boycotting parliament and provincial assemblies — and that Fazl stood isolated on the matter after Jamaat-e-Islami, which is part of the MMA, decided that its lawmakers-elect would take oath from parliament and provincial assemblies.
The source said Fazl, its MMA, the ANP and other smaller political groups are in favour of the option that the opposition—especially the PML-N and the PPP – work jointly on forming a coalition government at the Centre and in Punjab.
However, the PPP is all set to sit on the opposition benches in the National Assembly and in Punjab and has categorically conveyed to the N-League that it had no plans to “bypass the mandate of the PTI,” it is learnt.
Receiving an unfavourable response, the PML-N now seems less inclined to go ahead with the idea of resisting the PTI’s efforts to form a coalition government, according to a former federal minister.
Meanwhile, Fazl on Tuesday denied that was any rift between the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and the JI. Overall, the religious parties got more than five million votes in the general elections, which is an expression of public’s confidence on the religious forces, Fazl claimed.
He said the issue of oath-taking in parliament and provincial assemblies would be taken to the All Parties Conference for discussion.
Fazl, who contested the polls from two NA seats and lost both, alleged that the elections were rigged.