All eyes on Zardari as Senate elections loom

ISLAMABAD: Despite his party being in opposition, PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari has once again emerged as a central player in the politicking taking place around the upcoming Senate elections.

54f3b538a1d94Over the past couple of days, the heads of nearly all key political parties, including PTI chief Imran Khan, have conferred with the former president, who had arrived in Islamabad on Thursday, ahead of a government-convened multi-party conference on the proposed 22nd amendment.

On Sunday, Mr Zardari met JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman for the second time in two days and also spoke to Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq. The topic of discussion was Senate elections, scheduled to be held on Thursday.

Imran and PPP chief establish contact; former president says his party, JUI-F, ANP on same page

Given the bitter rivalry between the PPP and the PTI in recent months, political observers are viewing the telephonic conversation between Mr Zardari and Imran Khan as a “significant political development”.

An official statement issued by PTI Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari regarding Mr Khan’s conversation with the PPP co-chairperson created confusion in political circles.

“Asif Zardari called Imran Khan after agreement between (KP Chief Minister) Pervez Khattak and PPP on cooperation in Senate. Pervez Khattak will issue a detailed statement tomorrow (Monday),” said a text message quoting Dr Mazari, circulated by the PTI press office on Sunday night.

Later however, Dr Mazari clarified that there had been no “understanding” or seat adjustment with the PPP and the “agreement” mentioned was on the 22nd amendment. She said all these developments took place after a PPP delegation, headed by former interior minister Rehman Malik, had called on the KP chief minister.

She claimed that Mr Khan had actually asked Mr Zardari to support the proposed amendment allowing open balloting in the Senate polls. She said Mr Khan had told the PPP leader that such an amendment would strengthen democracy and democratic norms in the country.

On the other hand, Mr Zardari’s spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar claimed that Mr Zardari was returning the PTI chief’s call, which he had been unable to receive. “It really doesn’t matter who made the call. This shows that all parties are equally concerned over the practice of the use of money in the Senate elections and want to discourage such practices,” he said, adding however, that the PPP was not ready to support the idea of open ballots for the Senate.

Earlier, talking to reporters after meeting JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman here on Sunday, Mr Zardari advised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to show magnanimity by sacrificing some seats to other parties to ensure smooth process of Senate polls, like he had done as the president in the last Senate elections in 2012.

Earlier in the day, accompanied by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other PPP leaders, Mr Zardari recalled how he had reached an understanding with the Awami National Party (ANP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the PML-Functional of Pir Pagara by offering them more seats than they deserved in 2012. “Had Mian Sahab (PM Nawaz Sharif) adopted the same formula, a similar agreement could’ve been reached today. When you are in power, you must keep your head down,” he said.

He regretted that when he had ensured smooth Senate elections in the past, he was criticised by certain circles who termed his actions ‘hegemonic’. “And now that we’re not doing it, it is being said that there has been horse-trading in the elections,” he said.

Mr Zardari said that big issues such as electoral reforms and rigging could not be resolved within four days “and that is why we have opposed the 22nd amendment”.

The PPP co-chairperson announced that his party would soon be issuing a white paper to expose rigging and malpractices in all the previous elections held in the country.

“The PPP is about to publish a white paper very soon, which will provide details about all the elections. After examining it, we will make amendments and bring electoral reform,” he said.

The PPP leader said that they would try to make election authorities more independent and powerful, as is the practice in other developed countries.

“We want election authorities to have their own staff; they should formulate their own strategy, they should have powers and they should not be dependent on teachers, DCOs or provincial governments,” he added.

Answering a question, Mr Zardari said that his party wanted to see parliament complete its five-year tenure and would make every effort to ensure this.

He also categorically denied reports about differences between him and his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

To another question, he said it was not his responsibility to bring the PTI back to parliament. “Whosoever is in power, he should do that,” he said. The PPP leader said that he was happy to see the PML-N and the PTI coming closer.