LAHORE - The PML-N and the PPP are out to cannibalize the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, a party which had been launched before the 2002 general elections as the political arm of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The party, which comprised mostly the defectors from the PML-N and adherents of other PML factions, is now withering as swiftly as it had been cobbled together by the aides of the former president.
Many of the ‘opportunists’ the former king’s party has outlived its utility have either rejoined the PML-N or have formed electoral alliance with it. Many others have joined the PPP or the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf of Imran Khan.
By luring the PML-Q leaders and followers into its fold, the PML-N wants to settle scores with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, the main supporters of Gen Musharraf after he overthrew the Nawaz Sharif government in October 1999. For this purpose, the Sharifs have opened the doors of their party on all ‘defectors’, except a few they can’t tolerate back in the party.
As a parallel move, the PPP is also wooing the PML-Q electable leaders. The PML-Q has strongly opposed the incentives its so-called ‘ally’ is dangling to its adherents to make them change their loyalties at a time when it also needs strong candidates for the elections.
A number of PML-Q leaders, who could be potential candidates in the May elections, have already left the party and many more may follow suit. This has widened the gap between the two parties and there are indications that the alliance they had formed may evaporate before the elections.
The PML-Q is losing attraction for the people with the passage of time. In 2002, when the party contested the first election after coming into being, there were more than 15 applications for every seat and it had become difficult for the leadership to decide which candidate to select or drop.
However, the situation underwent a dramatic change at the time of the 2008 elections. Months before these polls, Gen Musharraf struck a political deal with Ms Benazir Bhutto, allowing her to return to Pakistan after the elections from the self-imposed exile. In violation of the accord, Ms Bhutto came back to the country before the polls and was assassinated.
It was generally believed that after the elections Benazir Bhutto would become the prime minister, while Gen Musharraf would stay as president. The PML-Q, the JUI-F, the ANP and the MQM were being projected as partners in the future coalition.
The Musharraf-Benazir agreement brought down the PML-Q’s graph as people started believing that the PPP was the ruling party. Thus, when applications were invited from the candidates, not much people showed interest in contesting from this party’s platform. On an average about two, three applications per seat were received.
At the time of the 2013 elections, the situation has further turned against this party and it is not finding candidates for all seats.
Even in Punjab, the situation is not very encouraging. Many important leaders desirous of contesting the elections have joined other parties.
It is said that about three dozen people have applied for the PML-Q tickets in Punjab so far. Although more applications may pour in, insiders don’t think the party will have candidates for all seats in Punjab, which will be the main battlefield for the rule in Islamabad.
At present, in Gujrat the Chaudhry family is the mainstay of the party. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Chaudhry Wajahat Husain, Chaudhry Shafat Husain and Chaudhry Moonis Elahi will be the main contestants.
PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Husain, being a member of the Senate, is not interested in contesting the NA election.
In Rawalpindi district, Raja Basharat and Sardar Saleem Khan will be the main candidates.
In Sargodha, it is Chaudhry Anwar Ali Cheema, son Amir Sultan and possibly Tanzeela Amir Sultan who will contest.
Chaudhry Zaheeruddin and Rana Zahid Tauseef will be the major ray of hope for the party in Faisalabad district.
Sardar Talib Nakai and Tariq Bashir Cheema will be the main candidates from Kasur and Bahawalpur districts, respectively.
There are only a few others who may be put up on various seats in other districts of Punjab.
“There was a time when the Muslim League House was overcrowded during the days before elections. But this time, there is a state of despondency”, an insider said.
While earlier the party thought it would be able to play the role of a king maker, none subscribes to this assessment anymore.
Many say that the PML-Q abandoned Gen Musharraf because of whom they enjoyed power for five years, and people withdrew their support to them.
When the party was launched, Mian Azhar was its first president. Now he is with the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.
Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who became the prime minister from the PML-Q’s platform, is now with the PML-F. The same is the position of Muhammad Ali Durrani, the information minister, during the Musharraf era.
Sheikh Rashid, who was also the information minister and the government’s spokesman, has set up his own party – Awami Muslim League.
Shaukat Aziz, who replaced Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali as prime minister, with Chaudhry Shujaat holding the office for about two months till Senator Shaukat Aziz was elected as a member of the National Assembly to qualify for the job, has been away from Pakistan for the past several years. Out of power, Shaukat Aziz has no interest in the affairs of the country.
Faisal Saleh Hayat, parliamentary party leader in the outgoing assembly, is keeping silent and, some say, he is thinking of contesting the May elections as an independent. Other reports suggest that like many other PML-Q leaders he may also join the PML-N.
A number of PML-Likeminded leaders, who were once part of the PML-Q, have formed electoral alliance with the PML-N, a negative development from the PML-Q’s point of view.
Over 40 PML-Q Punjab MPAs formed a so-called Unification Bloc shortly after the elections and joined hands with the PML-N. As a result, the PML-N, otherwise not in a position to form government, got majority and ruled the province for full five years.
Even in the future, these people plan to stand by the PML-N.
All this suggests a bleak future awaits the PML-Q. It will be a miracle if it survived after the May elections and remained in existence till the next polls, whenever they are held.