For our so-called politicians, the words like principles, credibility, loyalty, commitment, and trust do not matter at all, especially when it comes to getting an office with perks and privileges, and above all protocol. The nation has watched political parties making u-turns, running away from written commitments, charters, and declarations many times. The latest such episode they witnessed during the recent Senate election.
Until the March 26 notification of Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as the new Leader of Opposition, no one had an idea that this office would become so much important for the PPP that it would go to an extent of even not shying away from begging help from Sanjrani, whose election as Senate chairman it had challenged in a court of law only a few days back.
Mr Gilani has been nominated as the opposition leader after 30 members, including 21 from the PPP, announced their support to him as against 17 senators who had supported the candidature of Azam Nazeer Tarar of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Besides the PPP senators, Mr Gilani was supported by two members from the Awami National Party, one from the Jamaat-i-Islami, two independents from erstwhile tribal areas and four independents belonging to a newly-formed group under another independent Dilawar Khan.
Interestingly, all these senators have been sitting on the treasury benches and had voted for Mr Sanjrani on March 12 during the election of the Senate chairman against Mr Gilani. Three of these independents are known as the senators backed by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a party joined by Mr Sanjrani after winning the Senate election as an independent in 2018.
How the things were managed could be judged from the fact that Samina Mumtaz, who had recently won the Senate seat on the BAP ticket, had also submitted an application to the chairman in favor of Mr Gilani. However, after realizing that she is not an independent senator, she was asked to withdraw the letter and the name of another BAP-backed independent was included in the list of Mr Gilani’s supporters.
The PPP preferred the office even at the cost of the opposition’s unity which the opposition parties had somehow managed to keep until the March 12 elections for the offices of the Senate chairman and the deputy chairman. The rest of the leadership of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) watched the PPP accomplishing the task of getting the opposition leader’s while sitting at Jati Umra residence of the Sharifs in Lahore.
For many, the PPP’s slogan Aik Zardari Sab Pe Bhari has once again worked. This slogan has different meanings for both the PPP supporters and the opponents. It is unfortunate that the PPP walas consider Asif Zardari a statesman because of his capability of wheeling and dealings and taking benefit (visible or hidden) out of any situation. This is what he has done now and at the cost of “credibility.”
After agreeing to a formula regarding the distribution of top three Senate offices – under which the opposition leader’s office was to go to the PML-N – the PPP has, no doubt, proved that in politics, commitments and words do not matter. The party, however, says that it was a number game which it has won. Previously, when Mr Zardari after betraying the famous Bhurban declaration in 2008, made a deal with the PML-Q and appointed Chaudhry Pervez Elahi as the deputy prime minister only weeks after calling the Q-League as Qaatil League, the PPP walas had praised him for his reconciliatory efforts.
In March 2018, Mr Zardari’s directives to his senators to vote for an independent Sanjrani for the office of the Senate chairman despite being in a position of getting the office had surprised even the party members who were later found unable to defend the move. The only argument they gave at that time was that they had prevented their arch-rival PML-N from getting the office. And again, they have done the same.
There is no doubt that Sanjrani has played smart. A person who was a new entrant to the politics prior to becoming the Senate chairman only three years back and who was often dubbed a “parachuter” by the opposition parties has outclassed the country’s experienced and traditional politicians through his maneuvering skills. And this is not the first time that he has done it. This is for the fifth time, at least, starting from his first election as the Senate chairman with the support of the PPP to his second election by contesting against the same PPP.
And during this period, he once successfully averted a no trust threat from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) with the complete support of the whole opposition. And then, he survived a no-confidence motion pushed by the same opposition having 64 senators in the 104-member house.
Everyone remembers how the resolution to move a no-confidence vote against Sanjrani that had been passed comfortably by opposition senators with 64 votes faced a defeat when the opposition fell three short of the votes needed to send Mr Sanjrani packing when the results of the secret ballot were announced.
It was perhaps because of these skills that the ruling coalition lacking required numbers in the Senate once again nominat ed him for the top Senate slot. Prime Minister Imran Khan formally nominated Mr Sanjrani as the ruling party candidate a day after Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh suffered a defeat at the hands of Mr Gilani in the National Assembly despite having the numbers. And the move paid off.
There is no doubt that Mr Gilani, who had previously served the country as its prime minister, was a suitable person for the opposition leader’s slot if compared to the present members sitting on the opposition benches and particularly with Azam Nazeer Tarar, who had been nominated by the PML-N for the same office, but the way he had got this position has definitely dented his political stature. Soon after Mr Gilani’s nomination, memes started appearing on social media dubbing him a “selected opposition leader”. A PML-N leader openly commented that Mr Gilani had become the opposition leader with “the BAP votes.”
Responding to the criticism, Mr Gilani in a news conference dispelled the impression that he would be a friendly opposition leader.
“Today, a senior office-bearer (of another opposition party) said that a majority has been formed after taking people from BAP. I am telling you, there are two people from (previous) FATA. Dilawar sahib has had contact with the PML-N. He has a group of four independent people. So calling it a ‘government opposition’ is not appropriate and we should refrain from saying this to keep the PDM intact,” said Mr Gilani.
Besides the issue of en masse resignations from the assemblies, the issue of the Senate Opposition leader had also created a rift within the PDM ranks as both the PML-N and PPP publicly claimed their right to the key office.
The PML-N maintains that the decision that the opposition leader in the Senate would be from the 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. The decision that the opposition leader’s office would go to the PML-N had been announced by PDM’s information secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain in the presence of PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf.
The PPP, meanwhile, admits that it had previously agreed to give the office of the opposition leader to the PML-N in return for nomination of Gilani for the office of Senate chairman. But the situation changed after Gilani’s defeat.
Mr Gilani said Raja Pervez Ashraf had been tasked with presenting the party’s viewpoint regarding the Senate leader of the opposition in a meeting of the PDM steering committee, but he had not insisted on the position being given to the PPP at the time so that the Senate chairman election, for which he had already been nominated by the PDM, would not be “compromised”.
According to Mr Gilani, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari had contacted various PDM leaders regarding the issue, but they refused the proposal for the opposition leader’s office to be given to the PPP, saying a decision in this regard had already been taken.
The PML-N is upset over the development. It says the PPP should not forget that today Mr Gilani is in the Senate only because of the 83 votes of the PML-N members in the National Assembly.
Whatever the PML-N says, one thing is clear that the PPP could have got the opposition leader’s office without seeking support from the treasury benches after succeeding to get the support of the ANP and the JI as the Senate rules state that “if two or more members have equal support for the office of Leader of the Opposition, the member belonging to the party having largest numerical strength in the opposition to the government shall be declared by the chairman, as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.” Let’s wait for a proper justification from the PPP.