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Zardari running with the hare and hunting with the hounds?

Is it an attempt at realignment or is it a fissure that seems to have appeared in the Joint Opposition? A realignment of forces with the objective of showing muscle even though the PPP has 54 seats – 27 less seats than the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 81 seats, maintain those who argue that the joint opposition parties voted in favour of PPP’s Khursheed Shah as Speaker of the House which accounts for 146 votes cast in his favour; a fissure argue those who see the wily Asif Ali Zardari once again running with the hare and hunting with the hounds – an astute position especially given that his party is the only one in opposition in the centre that controls a provincial government.

This controversy began with Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressing his party’s serious reservations against MMA President Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s statements and maintaining that his party will not support statements against institutions. Joint opposition, Bilawal Zardari clarified, would be limited to protests against rigging in the elections. The PPP also privately expressed reservations at the nomination of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s son as Deputy Speaker by the MMA – a novice whose nomination also generated similar concerns among other members of the joint opposition. More recently the PPP expressed concerns over the nomination of Shahbaz Sharif as Leader of the House by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) against the expected electoral victory of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf’s (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan. The reservation was first voiced by Senate Leader of the Opposition Sherry Rehman and was endorsed by Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday.

Shahbaz Sharif as Leader of the House is not expected to win so if the PPP abstains from voting it would simply send a message to the PTI that PPP is open for business which may be welcomed notwithstanding Imran Khan’s oft stated reservations of corruption as PTI is in third place in the Senate with 12 senators (out of the total house strength of 104) and would need PPP’s 20 senators (plus 20 independents) to get a majority in the upper house for purposes of legislation.

The more critical question facing the PML-N is whether it would be able to secure the votes necessary to get the slot of leader of the opposition in the centre and in Punjab. Total number of parliamentarians in the national assembly who have taken oath is 330, while PML-N has 81 and MMA, unlikely to swing PPP’s way after recent comments, has 15 seats. The two together would easily get the slot of leader of the opposition and have a say in critical appointments including National Accountability Bureau Chairman as well as others. In Punjab the PML-N would easily win the slot of leader of the opposition and would be constantly maneuvering to get a majority to form the government with 158 seats out of a total house strength of 371 – a position that would strengthen as the PTI government fails to deliver what the ‘electables’ have come to expect – cabinet position or head of some autonomous organization or winning a lucrative contract.

So what would PPP get out of fracturing the opposition? Zardari’s critics point to possible relief for himself, his sister and his close associates from arrest/legal action though unlike the Sharifs he has not admitted ownership which implies that the onus of proof would be on the prosecution. It is relevant to recall that the Nawaz Sharif administration never proactively pursued pending corruption cases against Zardari and he was finally exonerated.

Others argue that Zardari was angered at the treatment Nawaz Sharif meted out to him in spite of his support for the PML-N government in 2014, reflected by his refusal to meet with him once the Panama papers case began in spite of repeated requests. However Zardari’s reconciliation politics is defined as keeping political considerations paramount for from them flow all other related matters pertaining to the fate of parties and their leadership.

Anjum Ibrahim, "Zardari running with the hare and hunting with the hounds?," Business Recorder. 2018-08-16.
Keywords: Political science , Joint opposition , Fissure argue , Electoral victory , National accountability , Autonomous organization , Reconciliation politics , Nawaz Sharif , Zardari , PMLN , PTI , PPP , MMA