ISLAMABAD: After losing the presidential election at the hands of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Tuesday, the opposition parties are not only blaming one another but are locked in internal rift, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in particular.
The absence of a presidential candidate from the PML-N despite being the largest party in the opposition is a question that has led to the emergence of different views in the former ruling party.
In the presidential election, the PTI’s Arif Alvi won by grabbing 353 votes compared to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s 185 votes followed by Aitzaz Ahsan’s 124 votes.
Well-placed sources in PML-N are of the view that the party leadership should have fielded a candidate to contest the presidential election.
A PML-N senator, requesting anonymity said the idea to field a PML-N candidate for the election remained under discussion in the top party huddles.
“Not that we were hopeful of winning the presidential poll. But even if we managed to get something like 200 votes in the presidential poll, this would have been a great political booster—to show that PML-N is still in the business and very much relevant as an opposition force.”
“If a candidate like Fazl can get 185 votes, why not us? Surely, we would have managed to secure more votes than that.”
The source said that PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif remained opposed to the idea of fielding a party candidate for presidential election apparently because the party leadership did not want to take the embarrassment of losing yet another election after losing the elections for the leader of the house, speaker and deputy speaker of National and Punjab Assemblies.
However, some party leaders do not support this view. “Instead of fielding our own candidate, we gave space to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Fazl. This is more of an admittance that our party is shrinking and losing political relevance.”
A source close to Shehbaz said the decision to not field a presidential candidate was taken keeping in view the existing realities.
“It would not be appropriate to blame him (Shehbaz) alone. The truth is that the entire opposition had a half-hearted approach towards presidential election.
“The PPP went for a solo flight, bypassing all other opposition parties. Fazl contested the election knowing that another candidate from an opposition party was already in run for presidential election that would benefit PTI.
“There has been a feeling that security establishment has been supportive of the new government and no opposition party wants to offend the power centres. The close aides of top leaders like Asif Zardari and Shehbaz are imprisoned and facing cases of corruption and money laundering and nobody wants confrontation with state institutions. Why blame Shehbaz then?”
The source added that Shehbaz’s decision to not field a candidate for presidential election was also part of a ‘tactical move’. “It was a wise decision of our party leadership to stay away from the mess and let PPP and Fazl take the blame of dividing the opposition.”
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Shehbaz’s close aide Rana Sanaullah defended the party leadership’s decision not to field a candidate for presidential election.
“We made it clear right from the beginning that opposition’s candidate for presidential election should be fielded through consensus. Unfortunately, this could not happen. Fielding separate candidates instead of a joint candidate ends up in division and embarrassment. This is what has happened. In future, we will try to unite the opposition.”
He strongly criticised Aitzaz for contesting the presidential election and bypassing all other opposition forces. “He was not a candidate of democratic forces. Everyone knows on whose behest Aitzaz contested the presidential election to divide the opposition and favour PTI.”
Meanwhile, speaking to media on Tuesday, PML-N chief Shehbaz said “We tried to unite opposition but it could not become possible. We will try to unite opposition in future.”
PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari blamed the PML-N when journalists asked him to comment on the allegation that he was instrumental in creating division among opposition (by fielding Aitzaz for presidential election). “Why don’t you say that Mian sahib (Nawaz Sharif) never really sat on opposition benches?” he asked back.