LAHORE - Tuesday was a bad day for the PML-N government. Former president Asif Ali Zardari, whom Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif contemptuously brands as Ali Baba and at time Zar Baba for reasons best known to him, stunned everyone when he lent support to PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s consistent demand for verification of election results of four NA constituencies won by important PML-N leaders.
The former president also said in a written statement that people had elected Mian Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, not a monarch, which is a very serious comment on his style of governance as many people believe that the PML-N leader has given all important government positions to his family members, relatives and friends.
The same day Imran Khan called for audit of the elections of all constituencies, making it very clear that time for the government to meet his earlier demand for verification of thumb impressions of voters of four constituencies was over. He also reiterated that his party would hold its Azadi March on August 14, as scheduled. He gave a clear indication that his party would demand midterm polls as, according to him, the 2013 polls had been rigged at a large scale.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as expected, was not deterred by the long march or protest threats coming from various parties. He said leaders of a few thousand people cannot challenge the mandate of those elected by tens of millions of voters.
The question is what is so important about the PPP and the PTI leaders’ utterances as such statements are expected from all opposition leaders.
The answer is that Mr Zardari was a ray of hope for the PML-N leadership at a time when other parties are trying to mount pressure on the government to get their demands met. It was being expected that with the PPP on the PML-N side the remaining parties would not be able to create any problem for the government.
To win the PPP’s heart and mind, the PML-N government did nothing against Mr Zardari and or to bring back to Pakistan his allegedly ill-gotten money deposited in Swiss banks. Only a few days ago it also took back an application against the bail plea of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, as a result of which a Sindh court allowed him bail. Another senior PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim got bail in 10 corruption cases only because the government did not oppose his plea.
But the “unfriendly” response coming from Mr Zardari after the above-mentioned friendly gestures from the PML-N government must have shattered the dreams of the prime minister and his colleagues.
People know that verification of the thumb impressions of voters of various constituencies would expose the level of rigging in 2013 elections, as a result of which the so-called mandate would become questionable. To avert this situation, a NADRA chairman was removed without any apparent justification, and the government also continues to oppose the thumbs verification plea on one pretext or the other.
In such a situation Mr Zardari’s assertion that heavens would not fall even if results of 40 NA constituencies are verified will be very embarrassing for the government.
The position reaffirmed by Imran Khan will be equally shocking for the rulers.
A number of ministers, who think they can outsmart the entire world, had recently said that to dissuade Imran Khan from holding his Azadi March, the government would invite the cricketer-turned-politician to the main national ceremony to be held at D-Chowk, Islamabad.
But the PTI chairman said he would go ahead with his own plan. To keep the government under constant pressure he said he would not immediately make public his new demands at this stage, nor announce his future course of action. Also, he said, on August 14 he would give proof of election rigging and the role played by various characters.
Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed added to the suspenseful situation by claiming yesterday that an important party would announce its support for the August 14 march on July 22. He also indicated that sitting legislators could start resigning from their seats one by one.
One can’t say if this would really happen. But in case it did, it may lead to a 1993-like serious crisis.
At the time there were serious differences between prime inister Nawaz Sharif and then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. When a number of people quit assemblies one after the other, Ghulam Ishaq Khan got another justification to dissolve the assemblies and sack the government.
(The assemblies were restored by the then Supreme Court after some 40 days. However, since the president and the prime minister could not co-exist, both had to resign because of the mediation of then COAS Gen Waheed Kakar. Fresh elections were held, which returned the PPP to power)
Sheikh Rashid and Chaudhrys of Gujrat are trying their best to bring Dr Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan on one platform. In case their efforts bore fruit, it would be a miracle if the PML-N survived.