PML-N struggles to explain NA speaker’s fears

LAHORE: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) went into damage control mode, following National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq’s pessimistic statement that the current assemblies may not serve out their full terms.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and senior party leaders scrambled to explain the speaker’s concerns by contextualising his remarks in terms of the upcoming Senate polls, as well as the conspiracies that they said were being hatched against the government.

Speaking to reporters in London, PM Abbasi was adamant that there was no threat to the government and the assemblies would complete their term.

“I do not see any threat to the government. Threats are always there, but our government will have smooth sailing and an interim government will be formed in June,” he said ahead of a meeting with key PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his children Maryam and Hassan Nawaz, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif.

The PM arrived in London from Turkey, and is expected to raise key matters, such as the standoff on Fata reforms and the delay in passing a new delimitation law.

Asked about Mr Sadiq’s remarks, the PM termed them “his personal opinion”, adding that he was ready to clear the speaker’s apprehensions, if he had any, media reported.

A private TV channel also quoted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as saying that Pakistan was moving towards instability and the circumstances prevailing in the country were “not satisfactory”.

He regretted that the country, which had been on the path to progress, was now moving towards instability after the July 28 Supreme Court decision.

Kha­waja Asif, who accompanied the PM to London, expressed the hope that the PML-N would sweep the next elections as well.

“The whole system — the government, the democratic set-up and the Senate polls — are facing serious threats from conspirators. Only Mr Sadiq can explain his statement, but as far as conspiracies against this government are concerned, they are in full swing and perhaps he was referring to those,” former information minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid told media.

He also pointed to the “new protest plan” that was aimed at paralysing the gov­ernment, being hatched under the leadership of Pak­istan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.

“He has come from Canada to stage another sit-in on the pretext of seeking justice for the Model Town incident; he even has the support of Imran Khan, Sheikh Rashid and others,” Mr Rashid said, asking what kind of ‘special glue’ it took to bring these forces together whenever they were needed. “Isn’t this a conspiracy against the system?”

He also termed the stoking of religious sentiments and the airing of corruption propaganda conspiracies against the ruling party. “Despite all this, we and those who believe in democracy will continue our struggle to save the democratic system, and hopefully parliament will complete its tenure,” Mr Rashid said.

Even Climate Change Minister and PML-N Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan said it was not necessary for the party to agree with Mr Sadiq’s statement. “However, we will strongly resist any unconstitutional steps taken to send the government packing before it has completed its term,” he said.

Another senior PML-N leader from Punjab told media: “Like other senior party members, Mr Sadiq is aware of the threats to the government ahead of the Senate elections, this is why he expressed his fears. There are also reports that the elections may be delayed due to the lack of consensus on the delimitation bill.”

He admitted there was growing unrest within the party’s ranks, and it was widely held that something was being cooked up against the government.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had already predicted that any delay in the passage of the delimitation bill could mean that the caretaker set-up would persist “for a longer period”.

“A caretaker set-up that goes beyond its constitutional limit of 90 days will be a recipe for rigging and electoral interference,” the minister told media a few days ago.

In remarks aired on a private TV channel on Wednesday, Mr Sadiq had said that though the continuity of the democratic system was critical to ensuring the strength of institutions in the country, he did not see the incumbent assemblies completing their tenures.

“What is happening now has never been witnessed before,” he said, but ruled out any possibility of a martial law being imposed on the country.

Expressing concern over Ayaz Sadiq’s views, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said the speaker had laid bare the “inside story”, adding that the situation “seemed suspicious” to him as well.

“The way his party is under pressure to hold early elections — we can see how the roads are being blocked and conflict is breaking out everywhere — everyone understands the dangers that Pakistan is going through,” Mr Shah told the media.

“We should move forward with our eyes open,” warned the opposition leader, saying that the speaker had expressed such views because he had a “better sense and understanding” of the situation.

On Thursday, the speaker’s statement was taken up on the floor of the National Assembly by MQM’s Kishwar Zehra. “Last night, the speaker painted a very negative picture of current events. His words, read between the lines, have caused unrest among the masses. The country was already faced with despondency, but this statement has created complications. These remarks need to be clarified.”

Responding to her concerns, Sheikh Aftab Ahmed said that he had also heard the speaker’s comments. “We will ask him to explain his remarks when he comes to the house tomorrow,” the minister concluded.

The issued also echoed in the upper house of parliament when MQM Senator Nighat Mirza remarked that the speaker’s statement had shocked everyone and only added to the prevailing despondency in the country. At this, Senate Chairman Rabbani observed: “The speaker did not surrender. Parliament does not and will not surrender.”