Rivals wheel and deal for Punjab prize

Battles heat up in country’s political heartland


​ Our Correspondents July 20, 2022

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE:

A sense of déjà vu prevailed in the nation’s political capital on Wednesday as another sinister potion of alleged horse-trading and controversy-ridden power struggle seemed to be brewing in the cauldron as opposition parties – PML-Q and PTI – and the ruling coalition swung into action ahead of run-off elections for the Punjab chief minister’s office.

Sounding alarms over the alleged behind-the-scene parleys, PTI chief Imran Khan said Lahore was witnessing a repeat of the Sindh House horse-trading episode that plagued the no-trust motion the then opposition parties had brought in to muscle him out of power.

He said a hefty amount of Rs500m was being doled out to buy MPAs – the wheeling and dealing Imran claimed was being architected by PPP’s Asif Zardari who “gets NRO (national reconciliation ordinance) for his corruption and purchases people with looted wealth”.

 

“He should be jailed,” the former prime minister said in a tweet, adding that that attempts to purchase MPA loyalties were not only an attack on democracy, but also on society's moral fabric.

"Had SC (Supreme Court) taken action & debarred these turncoats for life it would have acted as a deterrent. Don't handlers of US regime change conspiracy's imported govt realise severe damage being done to the nation?" he questioned.

The development came days after the PTI’s stunning win in high-stakes polls on 20 Punjab Assembly seats paved the way to wrestle back the heartland’s reins from CM Hamza Shehbaz, sending the shaky federal government into a tizzy.

As PTI and PML-Q gear up to dethrone Hamza amid the mercurial mood of the political climate, the PML-N-led coalition is exhausting all its options from the basket that seems to be shrinking very fast.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the CM elections seemed to be reaching its crescendo after PTI leaders said they were heading to the Supreme Court to avert the repetition of what it suffered in the first controversial CM elections that saw Hamza winning the coveted seat.

On Imran's instructions, a protest was also called at Lahore's Liberty Chowk against the alleged horse-trading.

Echoing PTI chief’s alarms, party leader Fawad Chaudhry urged the Supreme Court to take notice of the situation during a press conference in Islamabad and announced the party’s decision to take the approach the apex court on Thursday against the alleged horse-trading.

He asserted that the people of Pakistan will never accept such illegal practices as he claimed that each PTI MPA was being offered Rs350 million by Asif Ali Zardari for them to switch their loyalties.

Fawad further said that the alleged money on offer was being drawn from Sindh’s treasury. "They don't have money to clean nullahs in Karachi but they are offering money to our MPAs."

 

"You're inviting further chaos by doing this. Our economy is already in very bad shape. Punjab chief minister's election should be done according to law," he added.

Talking about his party's number game in Punjab Assembly, Fawad said the PTI enjoyed the backing of 188 MPAs, indicating the number might even jump to 189 or 190.

"If the Sindh House episode was noticed by the institutions then we would not have seen this today," he remarked, echoing Imran’s regrets.

Meanwhile, Shahbaz Gill accused the government of threatening and pressurising PTI MPAs through law enforcement agencies to switch their loyalties.

He also claimed that an MPA of the PTI has been bought by Zardari and the PML-N for Rs250 million. However, he added, the nation will not spare those who switched their loyalties for money.

However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) refuted the PTI’s allegation of bribing its MPAs in a bid to win the election of the leader of the house, scheduled for July 22.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Punjab Interior Minister Attaullah Tarar, while refuting the allegations, said that PTI MPA Chaudhry Masood had given resignation on April 3, 2022.

"He was not happy with the party's politics. He said in his resignation that there is no justice in PTI," he added.

He challenged Fawad to testify his claims on oath on the Holy Quran, saying he would leave politics forever if the latter did so.

He went on to allege that PML-N MPAs were being bribed by Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi and his son Moonis Elahi.

Tarar said a PML-N lawmaker was approached with a bribe of Rs100m while he was performing Haj. He further alleged that Moonis was "pleading" with the MPAs in Islamabad to switch loyalties while an elderly female PML-N MPA was also approached in Faisalabad.

Tarar said if the matter went to the courts, the PML-N would also present evidence.

Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani also issued a strong response to Fawad Chaudhry’s "false and absurd" allegations.

Shujaat throws weight behind Elahi

Meanwhile, PML-Q president and veteran politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on Wednesday reiterated his support for his cousin Elahi in the election for the Punjab chief minister.

In a policy statement issued by the PML-Q, Shujaat said Elahi was the party's candidate for the top office, adding that "those who won the mandate have the right to govern".

He added that he had made similar statements multiple times in the past as well.

Responding to reports that  Zardari had asked Shujaat to write a letter instructing PML-Q MPAs not to vote for Elahi, Shujaat said there was "no question" of issuing a letter.

"I do not need to clarify. The solution to the country's problems lies in not getting involved in cycles of counting [votes]," he said while referring to the election for the chief minister.

"Whoever succeeds in solving the problems of the poor will have completed his numbers in the true sense," Shujaat said in his statement.

Separately, PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and PML-Q's Chaudhry Parvez Elahi met on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming re-election and announced that they have achieved a majority in the provincial assembly.

After a detailed consultation meeting among the PTI and the PML-Q lawmakers, both leaders underscored that any attempt to kidnap or harass the provincial assembly members will be thwarted. “After the statement of Rana Sanaullah, we have taken the matter to the Supreme Court.”

Both sides took each other into confidence about the number game in the provincial assembly and deliberated in detail over July 22 elections.

Later speaking to the media, Qureshi said the people have given their verdict in favour of the PTI Chairman Imran Khan. The majority of the House of Punjab Assembly stands with Imran Khan and his nominated candidate Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. “We have achieved the support of 188 members but the ruling alliance is reluctant to accept the public mandate,” he added.

“The statement of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah is very irresponsible and regretful. Who will kidnap our members and why? On the by-election day, Maryum Nawaz accepted defeat with an open heart. Now what is the use of these tactics and statements,” Qureshi pointed out.

He alleged Asif Ali Zardari has once again set up a “market” in Punjab, adding there were reports that horse-trading was underway.

He reiterated that Elahi is the joint candidate of both the PTI and the PML-Q.

 

MQM-P meets Shujaat

Separately, Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) delegation held a meeting with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain at the latter's residence where they discussed the political situation and scenario after the Punjab by-polls and other matters.

The MQM-P delegation was led by its convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. The meeting was also attended by Waseem Akhtar, Tariq Basheer Cheema and Salik Hussain.

The leaders agreed to pursue a joint strategy for the development and prosperity of the country. Dr Siddiqui said that MQM-P and PML-Q have always taken decisions after holding consultations.

Shujaat said that the political uncertainty will be ended soon and the country will move on in the right direction.

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