published by THE NEWS March 18 2003
republished for archival purposes solely.
republished for archival purposes solely.
Moment of truth for PPP in NWFP after Senate loss
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
PESHAWAR: Such is the seriousness of the crisis in the PPP following its disastrous performance in the recent Senate elections in the NWFP that the party leader Benazir Bhutto has summoned her 10 MPAs to Dubai to find out as to what went wrong.
The meeting is scheduled to take place on March 24. It might be delayed due to the serious illness of Begum Nusrat Bhutto. But sooner or later, the party leadership would have to tackle the problems that pose a challenge to the PPP unity in the province.
The PPP failed to win one of the general seats in the Senate despite having the requisite number of votes. Any candidate with 8.2 votes was sure to win the Senate's general seat in the first counting. The party's 10 MPAs would have easily elected the PPP candidate, Sardar Ali Khan, as a Senator had they voted for him. But Sardar Ali, a dedicated party leader and a former MNA, got only one vote and lost. His lone voter was Syed Zahir Ali Shah, son of another former MNA Syed Zafar Ali Shah, who earned praise for voting for the party nominee despite all kinds of temptations.
The nine votes of PPP MPAs remain unaccounted. Their opponents accuse them of selling the votes to wealthy independent candidates for the Senate. It is alleged that they voted for Gulzar Ahmad Khan and his son Waqar Ahmad Khan, who were both elected Senators. Ironically, the father and son were once PPP stalwarts and permanent hosts of Ms Bhutto in Lahore. Some people also claimed that four PPP MPAs voted for Mohammad Azam Swati, the rich former district nazim of Mansehra who became a Senator with JUI-F support.
The PPP MPAs did elect Farhatullah Babar as a Senator on one of the technocrats' seats. But that was no big deal because other parties such as the ANP and PML-Q with 10 MPAs each managed to win two Senate seats, one general and the second of technocrat. In real terms, the ANP had only seven votes because three of its MPAs didn't vote for the party candidate, Asfandyar Wali Khan. Still the party won a general and a technocrat seat and expelled the three vote-selling MPAs from the ANP. The PPP's inability to win a general seat fuelled speculations, including the one that accused the party's nine MPAs of selling their votes. The MPAs have consistently denied the allegation, arguing that they traded their votes to seek support for Babar from members of other opposition parties. The argument lacks conviction and is at best an effort to tide over the storms of protest on the PPP's failure to win two Senate seats from the Frontier.
The nine PPP MPAs now in the dock include the party's parliamentary leader and former NWFP Assembly Speaker Abdul Akbar Khan and former provincial minister Iftikhar Jhagra. Both are seasoned politician and were expected to lead their younger. Instead, they were accused of letting the party to go adrift. The other seven PPP MPAs all first timers in the provincial assembly are Qurban Ali Khan (Nowshera), Syed Mohammad Ali Shah Bacha (Malakand Agency), Tariq Khattak (Nowshera), Hamid Iqbal (Shangla), Mazhar Jamil Orakzai (Dera Ismail Khan), Salma Babar (Dera Ismail Khan), and Ms Muniba (Chitral).
The PPP's poor performance in the Senate polls had a negative effect on the party's unity. The party's provincial president Khwaja Mohammad Khan Hoti led a campaign to make the erring MPAs accountable. He was joined by general secretary Najmuddin Khan and Syed Qamar Abbas, who wisely withdrew from the Senate elections after reading the writing on the wall and made room for Sardar Ali Khan. Hoti and the others were emboldened by ANP's decision to expel its three vote-selling MPAs and made them make a similar demand. But it appears unlikely that Ms Bhutto would expel the nine PPP MPAs because it would be a big loss for the party and would reduce it to a one MPA group in the NWFP Assembly.
Hoti's opponents in the PPP have also become active to make their presence felt. This group is justifying the Senate polls result and refusing to accept blame for vote selling. The nine MPAs have played a pivotal role in making the point that none of them sold votes to the highest bidder among the independent candidates. Surprisingly, the group is getting precious support from Maj Gen (Retd) Naseerullah Babar, a former interior minister and governor of the NWFP. Babar, respected because of his clean reputation, threw caution to the wind when he starting supporting the nine MPAs. In the process, he earned scorn from PPP members and began losing his credibility among the people. It was defending the indefensible but Babar persisted with his line of argument.
Ms Bhutto, the final authority in the PPP, would have to decide the matter judiciously to save the party from further splits and divisions. It is going to be a difficult decision and would affect the party's future in the NWFP. Hoti and some of his supporters have threatened to quit the party if the nine MPAs are pardoned. And expelling them from the party would also mean a big loss, at least for the time being.