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Nawaz League People Party Part in Political Divorce

Posted by on Saturday, February 26, 2011, 12:36
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Pakistan’s most famous political marriage of convenience ended in a divorce on Friday as Mian Nawaz Sharif signalled the ouster of the PPP from the PML-N Punjab government and both sides contradicted each other over the implementation of a 10-point agenda, raising fears of future tensions.

Nawaz League People Party Part in Political Divorce
Nawaz League People Party Part in Political Divorce

Mr Sharif announced “parting of ways” with the PPP at a news conference in Islamabad because of what he called unsatisfactory performance of the PPP-led federal coalition government in implementing his party’s economic-cum-political agenda during a 45-day deadline that ended on Wednesday.

As a consequence, he said, the PML-N’s Punjab chief minister and his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, would dissolve his cabinet, which includes several PPP ministers, and form a new one, possibly with the breakaway “unification bloc” of the opposition PML-Q, which will give him the majority in the 371-seat provincial assembly. This, he said, would happen within two days, possibly on Saturday.

Federal ministers Raza Rabbani (inter-provincial coordination) and Babar Awan (law and parliamentary affairs) strongly rejected Mr Sharif’s claim about non-implementation of the agenda and one of them told a joint news conference afterwards that “significant progress” had been made in the available time.

Both vowed to pursue that programme as PPP’s own agenda and said their party would play the role of a “strong opposition” in Punjab.

The two parties, which had pledged to shun their wild rivalry of the 1990s in a Charter of Democracy signed in 2006, struggled together against former president Pervez Musharraf’s nine-year military rule that ended after February 2008 elections, in which the PPP emerged as the largest party, with PML-N coming second, but the largest in Punjab.

They formed a coalition government at the centre in March 2008, but the PML-N withdrew six months later, mainly over alleged PPP foot-dragging in restoring judges of superior courts sacked by Gen Musharraf.

While a troubled coalition continued in Punjab, the two parties maintained a measure of understanding over major issues at the national level, with the PML-N earning the calling of a “friendly opposition”, which the party seeks to shed with its latest decision.

Mr Sharif, speaking after chairing a meeting of his party’s central organising committee and lawmakers, avoided a clear answer when asked if the PPP ministers in the Punjab cabinet would be sacked, saying “a decision has been taken” and “modalities will be known by tomorrow”.

But he seemed to be downplaying speculation about a possible standoff between the country’s largest political parties, saying, in a reference to the famous battlefield of centuries ago in India: “We are not fighting a battle of Panipat. We are exercising our right. We want all this to be done in an amicable way.” The PML-N move and the PPP rebuttal came a day after the failure of what appeared as a last-minute effort by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to save the Punjab coalition and the broader understanding between the two parties when he met a PML-N delegation led by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Thursday.

MID-TERM POLLS: Mr Nawaz Sharif did not say if his party would launch a campaign for mid-term polls, but said such a demand would not be unconstitutional. He said his party gave sufficient time to the government to mend its ways in the interest of democracy “but the broken promises have brought us to such a tragic turn”.

He said tangible progress on certain points could have been made and that “even 30 per cent progress at this stage” would have been acceptable for his party. He said it was not a matter of 45 days but his party had been in talks with the PPP for the last three years marked by promises that were never fulfilled and agreements trashed. “Now we are not ready to become part of this game and are forced to say good-bye to the PPP.”

He said the decision had been taken by an overwhelming vote where not more than two per cent leaders opposed the idea, adding that he had also taken input from party workers at the grass-root level.

Mr Sharif rejected the charge of political horse-trading in Punjab with the formation of a 47-member “unification bloc” of the rival PML-Q, which is likely to join the new provincial coalition, saying those lawmakers would only return to their “parent party” they were forced to leave under the Musharraf regime.

At their news conference later, which seemed to have been planned in advance but announced after the PML-N decision, Mr Rabbani gave a point-by-point progress over the 10 points.

He and Mr Awan both ruled out any mid-term election as a consequence of Friday’s development and accused the PML-N chief of violating the Constitution by calling PML-Q forward bloc as a segment of his party.

With all seven PPP ministers in the Punjab cabinet seated on the stage at the Press Information Department auditorium, Mr Rabbani spoke in a comparatively mild tone, while Mr Awan seemed aggressive, calling the “unification bloc” as “a gang of Changa Manga” — a reference to a Punjab forest often cited as a place for lodging political turncoats.

President Asif Ali Zardari, currently on an official visit to Kuwait, also seemed to be keeping in touch with the country’s politics as his spokesman Farhatullah Babar issued a statement from abroad saying PPP members of the Punjab cabinet would not send their resignations and that “the politics of reconciliation will continue”. Mr Rabbani wondered how Mr Sharif could say nothing was done during the 45-day period while the head of his party’s negotiating team, Senator Ishaq Dar, had expressed his satisfaction at the progress “at the end of our marathon meetings”.

The minister cited steps taken point-by-point, including a reversal of increases in petroleum prices, reduction in the size of the federal cabinet and formation of new boards of several state-run enterprises as evidence of what he called a significant progress made on the reform agenda.

“But I feel sad on the decision taken by Nawaz Sharif because we sat with sincerity to address major problems confronting the country,” he said.

He said the nation and media could sit in judgement to decide on the seriousness and sincerity of the PPP in implementing the 10-point agenda.

“I don’t want to beat the drum of our own publicity, I leave it to you and each poor individual of this country and appoint you as judge to decide how much progress we made on these 10 points in a limited timeframe,” he said.

“The 10-point agenda is our agenda. It is our manifesto and we will continue its implementation. There should not be any ambiguity on this count,” the minister said.

“Punjab does not belong to the PML-N alone, rather all political forces are free to do politics there,” he added.

Babar Awan said now his party would act as a “senior ombudsman” in Punjab and keep a vigilant eye on the working of the provincial government. “We will also request the speaker to give us the slot of leader of the opposition in the provincial assembly.”

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