PTI changes tack over opposition leader move

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s efforts to clinch the office of the opposition leader in the National Assembly suffered a setback on Wednesday after differences emerged within the PTI over the nomination of Shah Mehmood Qureshi for the key parliamentary slot and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) refused to support such a move.

Following a meeting chaired by Imran Khan on Wednesday, the party also took a new position, stating that they had yet to nominate a candidate for the office. This is a clear deviation from their stance last week, when the party had formally started canvassing to replace Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Syed Khur­sheed Shah with Mr Qureshi.

Sources said there was a group within the PTI that wanted to see Mr Khan as leader of the opposition instead of Mr Qureshi.

A PTI insider claimed that the issue did not come under discussion in Wednesday’s meeting, due to the absence of Mr Qureshi and PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen. However, the source confirmed that it was suggested during a recently-held meeting of the PTI’s parliamentary party that Mr Khan should become opposition leader.

Party members divided on fielding Imran Khan or Shah Mehmood Qureshi as Khursheed Shah’s replacement

The campaign to launch Mr Khan as the new opposition leader was sparked by MNA Ali Mohammad Khan. The lawmaker from Mardan posted a photo with the PTI chief on Twitter, making public his desire to see Mr Khan in Mr Shah’s place.

“If any change of guard happens in NA, Insha Allah, Imran Khan will be our opposition leader and prime minister,” the PTI MNA tweeted on Tuesday.

When contacted, PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said there was a consensus to name Mr Khan as the new opposition leader. However, he said, the party would nominate its candidate once they received a nod from other opposition parties.

Mr Qureshi, who had met leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi to discuss their future strategy and had previously said that the MQM had nominated him for the slot of the opposition leader, blamed the media for this “faux pas”.

“Imran Khan has asked us to initiate the process and hold consultations with other opposition parties, since it is a very good proposal. However, we will nominate someone after consultations, and only when we start gathering support from the other opposition parties,” he said.

“Some people in my party are also immature,” he said, without naming anyone.

Mr Qureshi said that he was scheduled to meet PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shu­jaat Hussain after Ashura. “Everything must be done in a graceful manner. What will we do if tomorrow we fail to gather the required numbers?” he asked.

Denying the impression that the MQM had nominated him as the new opposition leader, he said the party had only extended its support to the PTI over the move to change the opposition leader.

“Nothing has been finalised, and a final decision will only be taken by Imran Khan,” he said.

PTI Information Secretary Shafqat Mehmood seconded Mr Qureshi’s viewpoint, saying that the media was wrongly reporting that the party had nominated Mr Qureshi for the opposition leader’s slot.

“No formal announcement has been made by the party in this regard. Since Imran Khan is our party head, he will naturally be the new opposition leader if we succeed in our move,” he said. On the other hand, a senior MQM leader, who is directly involved in the process, stated that the party would have no objections to anyone nominated by the PTI. However, he confirmed that they had discussed the name of Mr Qureshi as a replacement for Mr Shah in their meetings.

Meanwhile, the PML-Q complained that neither the PTI nor the MQM had consulted them before initiating the process of changing the opposition leader.

Talking to Dawn, PML-Q leader Senator Kamil Ali Agha said they could not allow any other party “to take us for granted”. He was of the view that being a senior politician, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain enjoyed a certain stature that should be respected.

Mr Agha said that, for the time being, they had decided not to support the move to change the opposition leader, but said the decision could be reconsidered if Mr Khan directly approached their party chief.

The PPP, on the other hand, said that there was no panic among party ranks, since they were sure that efforts to remove Mr Shah as opposition leader would fail.

Speaking at a press conference with other party leaders, Senator Farhatullah Babar said the PTI and the MQM had the right to change the opposition leader.

However, he said, the PTI leadership should first apologise to the MQM for Mr Khan’s past remarks about the party.

There is a provision in the rules and procedures of business of the National Assembly which permits such a change and it has nothing to do with the Constitution. The opposition members, under the rules, are required to simply inform the speaker in writing that they want to change the opposition leader. The speaker, after verifying that the majority of the opposition members have signed the request, will be bound to nominate the new leader of the opposition.

The 32-member PTI is expected to get the support of the Jamaat-i-Islami having four members, besides the support of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and a few independents like Jamshed Dasti for the position.

On the other hand, the 47-member PPP will only have the support of the two MNAs of the Awami National Party, and one MNA each of the Balochistan National Party and the Qaumi Watan Party.

If the plan succeeds, the PTI will have a significant role in the appointment of a new National Accountability Bureau chairman, as incumbent chief Qamar Zaman Chaudhry will complete his four-year term on Oct 10. Besides this, the PTI will also have to be consulted by the government over the appointment of caretaker governments before next elections.