Rifts emerge in PML-N, PPPP on IRSA appointment

PMLN, PPPP show signs of strain in first month into power

Rizwan Shehzad   March 27, 2024



The ruling coalition has started showing signs of strains in the first month into power as the leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPPP) came face-to-face on Tuesday on the contentious appointment of a retired bureaucrat as the new chairman of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa).

The counter statements from the leaders of the PML-N and PPPP, the main partners in the federal government, has brought to fore cracks in the ruling coalition just days after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, first, appointed Zafar Mahmood as the new Irsa chairman and, then, hurriedly withdrew his decision after seeing strong opposition from the PPPP.

Though both the parties entered into an alliance and formed the government in the Centre on the heels of a split mandate given to political parties in the February 8 general elections, the tone and tenor of the statements issued from both sides not just indicate rifts between them but also raise questions about the stability of the coalition.

Although PTI-backed independent candidates won majority seats of the National Assembly in the general elections, PML-N’s Shehbaz became prime minister only after PPPP gave him votes in exchange for some constitutional offices, including the office of the president.

Though PPPP decided that it would not become a part of the federal cabinet, distribution of key constitutional positions between them had led to the formation of coalition government, which has started shaking in its first month into power.

“It is written in the Irsa law that the provinces will be consulted on the appointment of the chairman,” PPP’s central spokesperson Shazia Marri said in a statement released by the party and posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“Even if there is no law, even then the allies should be consulted,” the PPP spokesperson said. “PML-N wants PPPP’s vote for free and if they expect us to put a stamp on their illegal activities,” Marri stated, “they are living in a fool’s paradise”.

The PPP spokesperson’s statement has come in response to a statement of PML-N leader, Rana Sanaullah, who criticised PPPP over Irsa chairman’s appointment issue in a TV talk show.

When asked whether the PML-N-PPP coalition would last for five years or if the PML-N could be sidelined by the PPP after a couple of years, Sanaullah said one could not predict the future. However, the PPP's immediate reaction to the appointment of Irsa chairman at the beginning of the coalition suggested that the partners were primarily interested in portraying themselves as the righteous ones.
Sanaullah, who served as the interior minister in the last PML-N government, stated that his party would endeavour to maintain a positive trajectory with its allies, emphasising the unpredictability of future outcomes.

In response to PM Shehbaz’s decision to withdraw the Irsa chairman’s notification, the PML-N leader remarked that if party supremo Nawaz Sharif were the prime minister, he would have communicated to the other party that a decision had already been made.

He said Nawaz would have suggested both sides to wait for some time, as it would be inappropriate to issue a notification in the morning and withdraw it in the afternoon.

However, Sanaullah stated that PM Shehbaz consistently demonstrated his magnanimity, adding that he could provide several examples of the incumbent premier successfully managing similar situations while leading the 13-party alliance during his previous tenure.

“He [PM Shehbaz] will still face such issues but there comes a point where one has to take a stand,” Sanaullah said.

Things would have been different had PPPP requested the prime minister to change his decision without resorting to protest, he added.

Sanaullah, however, said immediately resorting to protest, issuing statements to media and making hue and cry over the appointment lead to criticism among the parties and does not politically look good among the coalition partners.

During his interview, Sanaullah emphasised that PM Shehbaz had to engage in politics with the help of the party.

The rift over Irsa chairman’s appointment is not the first issue where the two sides have publically differed with each other as, recently, PPPP objected to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) demand during talks with government that Pakistan should revisit the National Finance Commission (NFC) formula, wondering why the global lender would push the Center to encroach on provincial share.


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