For four days, Nawaz Sharif sat next to the chair he will now occupy as prime minister of Pakistan in the National Assembly. Now, after he has officially won the vote and been sworn in by the president, the ‘hot seat’ is finally his.
It took almost 14 years for Nawaz Sharif to regain the position he was so unceremoniously deprived of when General Pervez Musharraf deposed him in a military coup. Even when he finally managed to return to Pakistan, he could not return to power, and instead presided over a much-diminished PML-N. Now, Nawaz has come full circle.
“I declare Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” announced Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq soon after informing the House that the PML-N chief bagged 244 votes, which means that he had the support of well above two-thirds of the 317 members present.
After the PML-N’s victory on May 11, his election as prime minister was a foregone conclusion. Before voting formally began, a copy of the prime minister’s first speech to parliamentarians was already placed before Nawaz Sharif. As on the first session of the National Assembly, the slogan that reverberated through the assembly hall was ‘Sher Aya’.
Nawaz has made history by becoming prime minister for a record third time, but unlike Yousuf Raza Gilani five years ago, he did not get elected as a consensus prime minister. That distinction still belongs to Gilani who is the only consensus prime minister in the history of the country. Despite being certain of their loss, the Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) decided to contest against Nawaz.
However, the PPPP’s Makhdoom Amin Fahim and the PTI’s Makhdoom Javed Hashmi – Nawaz’s long-time ally-turned-political rival - could only obtain about as many votes as their parties had seats. It was 31 votes for Hashmi and 42 for Fahim.
The PML-N chief sailed through the election process but not before some drama on the floor of the lower house of Parliament and in the lobbies.
Inside the assembly hall, PML-N lawmakers were busy grabbing other members one by one to come and vote for their candidate. Outside in the lobbies, hundreds of their supporters were trying to get into the already jam-packed visitors’ galleries to witness their leader becoming prime minister for a record third time.
Some even intruded into the press gallery where journalists themselves had to force the visitors out at one
point. People who had come from Lahore and other cities of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were simply not willing to miss the show.
The National Assembly Secretariat issued over 3,000 visitors’ passes while the total seating capacity is 800. The angry supporters kept banging at the locked doors of the assembly hall even during the voting, provoking some members of the PTI to lodge a protest.
“Stranger in the house! Some non-members have managed to enter the assembly hall right under your nose, sir, and from the galleries they have been continuously raising slogans which the rules do not allow,” PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi protested to the speaker.
“I take full responsibility for the mismanagement and inconvenience caused and I apologise to the House and to the people for this,” responded Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who then himself had to go up to the galleries and request people to leave the press galleries they had occupied.
Voting finally began when some semblance of order had been restored, but the irritated visitors kept banging on the locked doors from the outside. The show, it seems, was just too enticing to miss. For the purpose of voting, to be conducted on division basis, three lobbies were established. Members voting for Nawaz had to get to lobby ‘A’ and register their votes on a list. The same was to be done for Hashmi in ‘B’ and Fahim in ‘C’. The number of votes on all three lists then had to be separately counted and the result handed over to the speaker for announcement. More than the elections process itself, people were interested in watching certain members choose their candidate.
That’s where the drama came in. Suspense mounted when all others went into their respective galleries while members of the MQM, PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his JUI-F cohorts, QWP leader Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the ANP’s sole representative Ameer Haider Hoti, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Ijazul Haq, the chief of PML-Z remained sitting. Given that most of them had already promised their support to Nawaz, this caused a measure of consternation in the PML-N camp.
The PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique was the first to make a move. He grabbed hold of Jamshed Dasti and took him to Nawaz. Then other PML-N members, including Chaudhry Nisar and Sheikh Aftab, went up to other leaders to ask them to act upon their promises.
But it was not until the PML-N chief stood up in his chair that these leaders came up to him and then proceeded to the gallery A. One man was left waiting, as not a single PML-N member tried to woo Sheikh Rashid. He waited and then finally proceeded to the PTI’s gallery.
Then came congratulations, as parliamentary leaders flocked to felicitate the newly-elected prime minister. Now all eyes were on Rashid, Ijazul Haq and Hashmi. The former PML-N stalwart and current PTI President Javed Hashmi was the first to break the silence. He walked over to the leader of the house’s seat and embraced his former chief, as the galleries exploded with claps, cheers and chants.
“Nawaz Sharif was my leader yesterday and he is my leader today,” said Hashmi in his subsequent, and clearly heartfelt, speech.
Then it was Rashid’s turn. This time the roar from the visitors’ galleries was louder than before even though the former PML-N leader only shook hands with Nawaz.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2013.