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Differences Deeper on Senate Opposition Leader

• Maryam says decision that PML-N will get the post has already been taken
• Raja insists situation changed after Senate chairman election

ISLAMABAD: Differences within the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on the nomination of opposition leader in the Senate came to surface on Sunday when both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) publicly claimed their right to the key office.

The two parties have started lobbying for the office and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has talked to the heads of some smaller parties in this regard.

The PPP admits that previously it had agreed to giving the office of the opposition leader to PML-N in return for nomination of Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani for the office of Senate chairman, but says that after his defeat, the situation has changed.

PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz took up the matter with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman at a meeting with him in Jati Umra, Lahore, on Sunday. Talking to reporters later, she said the decision that the office would go to PML-N had already been taken and it would not be reversed.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari on Sunday talked to National Party chief Dr Abdul Malik and is scheduled to meet Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq in Mansoora on Monday (today) to seek his support for the PPP candidate.

Ms Nawaz said the decision that opposition leader in the Senate would be from PML-N had been taken by a PDM committee and it had nothing to do with the outcome of the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman. She said she had also talked to the Maulana on the issue.

The JUI-F chief, who is also the PDM president, was present on the occasion, but preferred to remain silent.

PML-N has already nominated Azam Nazeer Tarar for the post but PPP has not only rejected his nomination, but also lodged protest over it with the PML-N leadership because Mr Tarar is a lawyer for the accused police officials in Benazir Bhutto murder case.

According to sources, former president Asif Ali Zardari had conveyed his reservations to PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif over the move a day before the crucial meeting of the heads of the component parties of the PDM in Islamabad on March 16 after which differences in the opposition alliance over the issue of en masse resignations had also come to surface.

Announcing the decision to nominate Mr Gilani and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri as joint opposition candidates for top Senate offices on March 8, PDM information secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain had declared that it had been decided that the PML-N would retain the office of opposition leader in the new upper house.

The announcement was made by Mr Hussain in the presence of other PDM leaders, including Raja Pervez Ashraf of PPP.

Later, PML-N vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had announced at a news conference in Islamabad last week that the party had nominated Mr Tarar for the office of opposition leader in the Senate as per an agreement reached among PDM parties.

Mr Tarar has been elected senator for the first time on a seat reserved for technocrats and he was among the 11 senators who were elected unopposed from Punjab.

Hours after Ms Nawaz’s categorical announcement, PPP leader and senior vice-president of the PDM Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed the hope that the issue would be amicably settled with consensus among the combined opposition parties in accordance with “the established democratic norms and traditions”.

In a statement, Mr Ashraf said with 21 senators, the PPP was the single largest opposition party in the Senate and the party believed that in accordance with democratic traditions, the slot of the opposition leader should go to it.

Mr Ashraf said the two other important parliamentary positions, opposition leader in the National Assembly and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, were held by the PML-N.

“It will be right and proper that the third important parliamentary position namely leader of opposition in the Senate is given to the largest opposition party in the upper house of the parliament, instead of the party which already holds the other two important parliamentary positions,” he said.

Mr Ashraf said he was a member of the committee constituted by the PDM heads to propose names for the slots of Senate chairman, deputy chairman and opposition leader. The PPP leader said he had agreed that the three Senate slots be distributed among the three largest opposition parties in the PDM by proposing the candidate of the PPP for the chairman, the deputy chairman candidate from the JUI-F and the opposition leader candidate from the PML-N.

However, he said, after manipulation in the election of Senate chairman and denial of the chairmanship to Mr Gilani by wrongly rejecting seven votes cast in his favour, “the situation has completely changed”.

Mr Ashraf said after election to the office of the Senate chairman the situation with regard to the available offices in the upper house and their distribution among opposition parties had changed. The stance of the PPP on the opposition leader office was based on democratic principles, equity and fair play, he said.

At present, the PPP has 21 senators on opposition benches whereas the PML-N with 17 members is the second largest party in the upper house. Previously, the PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq was the leader of the opposition, but this time he had not contested Senate elections.

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