Punjab’s capital Lahore saw heightened political activity on Friday evening when the top slot of the province fell vacant following acceptance of resignation of Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar by the governor amid legal hitches, followed by immediate summoning of the Punjab Assembly session on Saturday morning for the election of chief minister.
The Punjab government de-notified CM Buzdar after the acceptance of his resignation but in the same notification allowed him “to continue to hold office until his successor enters upon the office”.
In an array of notifications, the provincial government also de-notified all the 37 provincial ministers, five advisers and five special assistants to the chief minister.
While the hurriedly called session caught the opposition off-guard, each side claimed to have the support of provincial lawmakers to secure the much-needed 186 votes in the 371-member house to occupy the top office in Punjab for which the PTI and PML-Q had nominated Pervaiz Elahi and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz finalised the name of Hamza Shehbaz after its approval by the party supremo.
The PTI camp, now led by PML-Q’s Punjab president Pervaiz Elahi, entered into deep consultations and maneuverings with MPAs across the political divide. The ruling coalition camp was buzzing with activities ranging from meeting the visitors, calling different lawmakers and seeking time for PML-Q’s top leadership visit for their assured support.
The PTI and PML-Q also held its joint parliamentary meeting at chief minister’s secretariat and showed a strength of over 150 MPAs, which included those belonging to the PML-N.
A senior PML-Q leader said: “We have secured the assurance of MPAs to achieve the magic number of 186 votes to defeat the joint opposition in the chief minister’s election on Saturday (today).” However, PML-N leader Rana Mashhood claimed that there was a rift amongst PTI legislators as many of them were annoyed how a party with only 10 MPAs could be given the CM’s slot.
TAREEN, CHHEENA GROUPS: The disgruntled factions of the ruling PTI, better known as the Jahangir Tareen and Chheena groups, are being considered a decisive factor in the Punjab chief executive’s election.
The Chheena group, with 14 MPAs, announced its support for the candidature of Parvez Elahi as chief minister after Mr Elahi personally visited them at group leader Ghazanfar Abbas Chheena’s residence.
“The Pervaiz Elahi group has wooed many of the 17 MPAs so far united under the leadership of Jahangir Tareen,” claimed a PML-Q leader, explaining that many of those forced to quit the Q-League to join the PTI ahead of 2018 general elections had returned.
Considering Elahi’s political stature and respect across the political divide that was demonstrated in his Punjab Assembly Speaker election, the PML-Q leader said many of the PML-N legislators had approached him and expressed their support in Saturday’s election. Five PML-N MPAs, who have been show-caused by the party leadership, are also on the side of the PML-Q as well as four of the five independents are also supporting Elahi, claimed another PML-Q leader.
“The immediate calling of the Punjab Assembly session and holding of elections early next morning is part of government’s plan to catch the opposition off-guard,” a PTI leader said.
Meanwhile, the PML-N called its MPAs in its party secretariat as the senior leadership of the opposition is consulting the Jahangir Tareen group for its support. The opposition that had already hinted not to offer the top office to the Jahangir Tareen group on Friday evening.
Meanwhile, four of the 165 PML-N legislators have defected and formed a group under Jalil Sharqpuri.
“The PML-N leadership has offered ministries to the Tareen group MPAs whose number is up to 17 and the party ticket for next polls. Aleem will be happy if cases against him are not pursued by the new government,” a source said, adding the PML-N doubted the commitments of some Tareen group members as they were also in contact with Mr Elahi.
The PML-N sounded worried over Mr Elahi’s move to ‘poach’ their MPAs. “We have reports that Mr Elahi being PA Speaker contacted a number of our MPAs. Since he enjoys good relations with both the ruling and opposition lawmakers, he is trying his best to secure the support of some of them [PML-N MPAs] to secure his win,” a PML-N provincial lawmaker said.
According to the PML-N sources, the Pakistan Peoples Party that has seven votes in the provincial assembly has sought the offices of the governor and speaker from the PML-N. “The PPP will fully support our candidate. There has already been settlement among the leadership of PML-N and PPP about power-sharing formula in the post-PTI government scenario. The PPP will either get the speaker and a ministry in Punjab or the governor post,” a PML-N insider said.
He said: “There were some other names even from strong Jehangir Tareen group for the slot but this ‘24 hours notice’ has left us to evolve a consensus on the opposition leader [for the CM slot].”
He said earlier there was an opinion in the PML-N ranks that since Shehbaz was going to replace Prime Minister Imran Khan once the no-confidence motion succeeded, his son, Hamza, shouldn’t be considered for the top post in Punjab. “Even a couple PPP leaders had questioned the father and son duo grabbing top slots in the Centre and Punjab when this proposal was discussed in the joint opposition meeting,” he said. One of them (PPP leader) had requested the PPP leadership Asif Zardari to speak to PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif to give the CM office to the PPP for an interim period.
At the same time, the joint opposition’s top men could not find time to deliberate much on the Tareen group’s request to consider its Saeed Akbar Nawani from Bhakkar for the CM slot. Similarly, disgruntled PTI MPA Aleem Khan’s hopes to seek endorsement from the PML-N leadership for the top position were also dashed as he failed to demonstrate support of some MPAs with him.
In the 371-member Punjab Assembly, the PTI has 183 lawmakers, PML-Q 10, PML-N 165, PPP 7, five are independent and one belonging to Rah-i-Haq.
Atika Rehman adds from London: Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz leader Ishaq Dar on Friday evening met with estranged PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen as the race to fill the Punjab chief minister’s seat heated up in Lahore.
A source privy to the development said Jahangir Tareen and his son Ali Tareen met with the former finance minister at a hotel in Park Lane to discuss the ongoing political situation as well as support for the CM Punjab candidate.
Sources said the development took the opposition by surprise, and prompted the PML-N leadership in London to reach out to Tareen, who has spent a large part of his stay in the United Kingdom at his residence in Oxford recovering from a medical procedure.
“It was a very positive meeting and will conclude positively,” the insiders said, expressing optimism that Tareen will support the PML-N’s candidate Hamza Shehbaz.