The rift between two major opposition parties – the PML-N and the PPP – over the office of the Senate’s leader of the opposition deepened on Friday when five opposition parties, including the PML-N, agreed to form a separate bloc of 27 opposition senators in the upper house of parliament.
Serious differences emerged between the parties – both part of an anti-government alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – after the PPP appointed its stalwart Yusuf Raza Gilani as Senate’s opposition leader, apparently in violation of what had earlier been agreed upon in a PDM meeting.
In a meeting held in Islamabad on Friday leaders of eight opposition parties agreed that “show cause notices” should be issued to the PPP and the ANP for disregarding the PDM’s decision, said sources.
They said the parliamentary leaders of the eight parties decided that the show cause notices should be issued with the approval of PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
Sources said the eight parties have decided to first give a chance to the PPP and the ANP to explain their position and if they couldn’t satisfy then they will be expelled from the alliance.
They said the parties have also agreed to hand over the leadership of the new bloc to Senator Azam Nazir Tarar, PML-N’s candidate for the position of Senate opposition leader.
Late on Friday night, five opposition parties in the Senate – PML-N, JUI-F, PkMAP and BNP-Mengal – announced that they will form a separate opposition bloc in the Senate.
According to the official statement, the meeting also decided to approach the PDM chief for seeking a clarification from the PPP and ANP “why did they take vote from BAP – the Balochistan Awami Party”.
The BAP is considered to be a brainchild of the security establishment which the PDM blames for the current political morass. While agreeing to send the matter to the PDM chief, it said, the newly-formed opposition bloc questioned the PPP and the ANP as to “why did you cooperate with the government?”
The new bloc also demanded that the PDM chief seek an explanation from the PPP and the ANP as to why they violated the principles and decisions of the PDM. The five parties hoped that Maulana Fazlur Rehman would seek a formal explanation from the PPP and the ANP in this regard.
Gilani was notified as opposition leader after some smaller opposition parties – including ANP, Jamaat-e-Islami and the BAP – threw their weight behind him.
“You were so desperate for this petty office that you accepted votes from BAP,” PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz had said addressing the PPP a few days ago.
“I don’t think this is the defeat of the PDM, including the PML-N. In my assessment it is the defeat of those who compromised on their principles for a petty office.
“Leader of the opposition holds no value. It is the pettiest gain. If you were so desperate, then you should have asked [PML-N leader] Nawaz Sharif and he would not have refused,” she had added.
The PPP leadership has maintained that they tried to approach Nawaz Sharif to persuade him to change the PML-N candidate – Azam Nazir Tarar – but former finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is with Sharif in London turned down the request.
“Zardari Sahib called and asked me to discuss with Mian Sahib that the opposition leader’s seat should be given to Gilani Sahib,” Dar recently told The Express Tribune, adding that he told Zardari that “it’s not possible because the PDM has already decided about it.”
“Besides,” Dar said, “it wasn’t appropriate to give Mian Sahib a new message from you [Zardari].”
The six-month old anti-government alliance gave a tough time to the ruling PTI when the PDM’s joint candidate Gilani defeated former finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in March 3 Senate elections despite lacking numbers on the papers.
This defeat had forced Prime Minister Imran Khan to take a vote of confidence from the assembly.
The government had, however, made a comeback after it defeated Gilani and JUI-F’s Maulana Ghafoor Haideri in the election for Senate chairman and deputy chairman.
Cracks appeared in the PDM after Zardari disagreed with the PML-N’s and the JUI-F’s suggestion to tender resignations from assemblies before starting a long march against the government and demanded that Nawaz Sharif should first return to Pakistan.
Later, a war of words started between the PML-N and the PPP, which soon devolved into use of harsh language and hurling of allegations, leaving the PDM in shambles.
Meanwhile, addressing a news conference in Jacobabad after meeting local PPP leaders and workers, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that his party will soon convene a meeting to discuss the matter.
He said many people from the party had advised him that history has shown the two parties did not get along and it will be a tough nut to crack.
"It has been my effort, however, over the last three years, for us to work together with all parties for the benefit of democracy.
"I will put forth the same point in the CEC meeting [...] we do not want this government to benefit out of any infighting between opposition parties," Bilawal said.
He said that it was a "great victory" with the PDM dealing the government a defeat for the first time in the last three years.
"And there can be no greater defeat, than the prime minister losing in his own constituency," the PPP chairman said, referring to Yousuf Raza Gilani winning the Islamabad Senate seat, with the government candidate Abdul Hafeez Shaikh losing by a margin of six votes.
"It would have been in the interest of PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) and democracy to have focused more on this victory and taken it forward to give this regime a tough time, so that the people who are suffering, can see that the opposition is at least united in the view that the government has to go and a true representative of the people brought," Bilawal said.
He wished JUI-F and PDM chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, as well as PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, both of whom were reported to have taken ill, a speedy recovery.
Bilawal said he does not wish to comment on his ties with Maryam — which he insisted are still "good" — lest some remark of his affects the situation.
He added that he does not think Fazlur Rehman is cross with anyone, or that he would show preference to one party over the other.
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