Day of reckoning for Zehri, PML-N government

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  •  Zehri likely to face defeat today as more lawmakers join rebel ranks and refuse to meet PM
  • Zehri’s woes increase as his secretary is taken into custody on corruption charges
  • Out of 21 PML-N lawmakers, Bugti claims of wooing 17 
  • Zehri needs 33 members to retain the CMship

All eyes are set on Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, who faces a vote of no-confidence Tuesday (today) in the Balochistan Assembly.

It sounds ironic but the challenge has not come from the number-weak opposition benches, rather most of the fellow lawmakers of the chief minister are out to claim his scalp.

On the direction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as a last-ditch effort, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Quetta in the afternoon to garner support for the beleaguered CM Zehri.

The visit turned out to be a disaster, as the cat is out of the bag now. The rebel lawmakers of the ruling party as well as the opposition lawmakers refused to meet him. It was an isolated and dejected Nawab Zehri who greeted the PM at the airport.

Though the PM’s visit was an exercise in futility, the later chaired a meeting at Governor House that too ended without a conclusion. While on the other hand, the meeting of the dissident lawmakers at the Quetta Press Club was in progress when the report was compiled.

Prior to PM’s arrival, Balochistan Assembly’s Leader of the Opposition Maulana Abdul Wasey told a local media outlet: “We have decided not to meet the prime minister as he and his followers could not “ride two boats.”

He said that once the no-confidence motion is carried, the JUI-F along with other coalition partners will form the next government.

Sources told Pakistan Today that it is likely that the next governor of the province will be from the ranks of the Fazl-led JUI, if Zehri loses the vote.

Abdul Wasay was flanked by some new faces that included Pakistan Muslim League-Q’s (PML-Q) minister Jaffer Mandokhail and Asim Kurd Geelu.

What comes as a bigger blow is that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers, particularly former home minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti, also refused to meet the premier.

“We are at the point of no return, Bugti told reporters, as he added: “We have great regards for the prime minister. Sharing the alma mater with Abbasi, I have a special equation with him. But politics is something else than personal relations. [But] We can’t meet him as we are at the point of no return now.”

He claimed that the opposition had attained support of 40 lawmakers while more are likely join their group.

“A very senior minister is also set to resign. The resignation may be coming soon,” he said without mentioning the name. The PML-N sources, however, claimed that senior minister Nawaz Changaiz Marri is likely to tender resignation and join the dissenters.

ZEHRI LOSES ONE TO ‘CORRUPTION’: 

The breathing space for the PML-N and CM Zehri is shrinking in the province.  Even before the PM could land in Quetta on his rescue mission, Nawab Zehri suffered a major blow to his credibility when the authorities arrested his secretary Ayyub Qureshi over corruption charges.

A local media outlet quoted police officials as saying that Qureshi is accused of amassing assets abroad and at home. It was reported that law enforcement agencies had recovered millions of rupees from Qureshi’s Quetta residence that he had allegedly gathered from four ministries at the CM’s behest.

PML-N’s POSITION IN BALOCHISTAN ASSEMBLY:

In the house of 65, the PML-N is the single largest party with 21 members. Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and National Party (NP)—coalition partners of the ruling party— have 14 members and 11 members, respectively.

ZEHRI AT THE BRINK:

Well-placed sources in the assembly informed Pakistan Today that the chief minister was fast losing support as he had failed to address the grievances of the members that were built over the past few years. It was even said that the session called for the no-confidence held a set of surprises for the assailed chief minister.

“Even the close confidants of the chief minister will support the no-confidence motion. This would be a befitting response to the chief minister who has been constantly turning a blind eye towards the issues being faced by the people of Balochistan,” a senior PML-N lawmaker told Pakistan Today, requesting anonymity.

As a major blow to Zehri’s chances, out of 21 lawmakers, the rebel group claims of having the support of majority, with 17 members supporting the motion.

In addition to this, as many as eight members of the JUI-F and five members of the PML-Q are likely to vote against CM Zehri.

The allies are also not immune to the anti-Zehri sentiment prevailing at the time. Two lawmakers each from the PkMAP and NP reportedly share the opposition’s view of Zehri’s ouster. Even NP’s Khalid Langau has signed the no-confidence motion.

JUI-F OBLIVIOUS TO PML-N’S PLIGHT:

The JUI-Fazl who is seemingly making most of the political turmoil has repeatedly refused to rescue Zehri from the situation.

The source said that the prime minister had made an offer to the JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman that Balochistan chief minister was eager to get the JUI-F on board, and all its MPAs will be inducted in the cabinet. Moreover, the source informed that PM Abbasi also invited the JUI-F to forge an electoral alliance with the ruling PML-N in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan for the upcoming polls.

However, Fazl could not convince JUI-F leader Abdul Wasay to join the Zehri-led government, the source said.

“Abdul Wasay clearly told Fazl that if the party [JUI-F] wants to remain relevant to the political process, it needs to stay put and not jump the opposition benches.”

Commenting on the JUI-F political strategy, the source said: “Wasay also briefed Fazl of his plan to grab a lion’s share of the rebel MPAs if the party supports the no-confidence motion. He told Fazl that his party had remained in the opposition for the past four and a half years, and [now] its abrupt jump to the treasury benches may hurt its political image.”

Wasay also expressed his grievances, saying that the JUI-F has been victimised over the past over four years by the PML-N government which is another reason for their refusal. He also apprised Fazl that the party lawmakers were against joining hands with the PML-N,” the source disclosed.

The provincial JUI-F leader refused to pay heed to the PML-N’s offer, telling Fazl that the ruling party was in no position to help it in Balochistan for the imminent polls.

WHO WILL BE NEXT CM?

In case Zehri is shown the door, some of the potential candidates for the post of the chief minister include former chief minister Jan Mohammad Jamali, Saleh Mohammad Bhotani and Mir Sarfraz Bugti.

“The JUI-F has refused to accept the CM slot and it has been agreed mutually that the PML-N, being the majority party, would elect the new CM,” the source said. It added that the PML-N leaders, however, were not ready to share their future plan of action about the next CM.

ITS ZEHRI AND SENATE FOR PML-N

The no-confidence motion is going to affect the possibility of the election of Senate election due in March this year as the PML-N is all set to secure at least six out of eleven senators from Balochistan.

With 11 Senators from Balochistan set to retire in March, there is an opportunity for the ruling party to increase its Senate membership. To do so, however, it is imperative that the party retains its strength in the Balochistan Assembly, which will elect senators to the upper house. However, if the rebel group attains majority votes, they would be able to elect rebels to the Senate.

Not only the PML-N will lose Zehri, it is also going to suffer a major in the Senate election, which adds to the gravity of the matter.

Judging by the mood setting in, it seems the CM will find it difficult to keep his parliamentary party united in these crucial times.

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