A day after most opposition parties agreed to field PPP Senator Raza Rabbani in the race for Senate chairman, an outmanoeuvered PML-N failed to spring up any surprises and instead endorsed the opposition’s nominee for the coveted office. Not only that the ruling party also decided not to run for the slot of deputy chairman in the upper house of parliament.
The PML-N announced its support for Senator Rabbani at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for heads of all parliamentary parties in the federal capital on Tuesday. The PML-N endorsement means the PPP nominee is all but elected as Senate chairman and that the March 12 election for the office of chairman will be just a formality.
The ruling party also decided against fielding a candidate for the slot of deputy chairman and asked smaller parties from Balochistan to pick a consensus candidate. PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said all political parties would name a candidate for deputy chairman on Wednesday (today) who would also be elected unopposed.
The opposition parties claimed that the prime minister has made a commitment that the government would soon rescind the controversial presidential decree issued hours before the March 5 elections for 52 Senate seats. The presidential order had changed voting procedure for lawmakers from tribal areas who were to elect four senators from their region. The move triggered an outcry from the opposition and subsequently, the elections for four Fata senators were postponed.
While addressing the politicians gathered at the Prime Minister House, Nawaz Sharif said that his government has set a tradition to evolve a national consensus on every issue of national importance. In keeping with this, he had asked PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Zardari to come up with consensus candidates for the offices of Senate chairman and his deputy.
The premier said that Zardari invited opposition leaders to dinner at his house in the federal capital on Monday where Senator Rabbani was picked as opposition’s candidate. “I’ve no objection to the nomination of Senator Raza Rabbani because he commands widespread respect among all political parties – but I wish Zardari had also invited me to the dinner and I would have endorsed his party’s nominee there,” he added.
He also regretted the absence of Zardari at the luncheon where leaders of most parliamentary parties were in attendance.
Later in the evening Premier Nawaz travelled to Zardari House in the federal capital where heads of most opposition parties were also invited to dinner. Zardari thanked the prime minister for endorsing the PPP nominee. The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to pursue politics of reconciliation.
“Today the Charter of Democracy has truly materialised as the numerical majority of a political party has been honoured,” Senator Babar said, while referring to a political deal signed between Nawaz Sharif and slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto in London in May 2006.
According to an official statement, the prime minister visited the residence of Zardari where prominent political figures including Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Asfandyar Wali, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mushahid Hussain and MQM MPs were present. Federal ministers Ishaq Dar, Pervaiz Rasheed, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Abdul Qadir Baloch accompanied the prime minister.
Sources told The Express Tribune that the prime minister complained to Zardari for ‘going solo’ and winning opposition parties’ endorsement for PPP nominee Senator Rabbani only a day before the ruling party could host them.
Zardari, however, said his move was prompted by the unexpected telephone call of Shahbaz Sharif to MQM chief Altaf Hussain and federal ministers’ contacts with PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. Sources said the prime minister repeatedly asked Zardari that he should have consulted him before announcing the name of Senator Rabbani.
According to sources, Zardari also informed the prime minister about the deal he has cut with the MQM at the Sindh level in exchange for their support in the election for Senate’s top slots.
The prime minister thanked Zardari for offering the ruling party to name a candidate for slot of deputy chairman. However, he politely excused, saying the smaller parties from Balochistan should name a candidate.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2015.