–PML-N leader claims support of 159 members, says some independents will also vote for Hamza Shehbaz
–Nomination of PTI’s Usman Buzdar became controversial after it came to the fore that he had reportedly got acquitted in six murders after paying blood money, faced NAB probe over illegal recruitment
–Imran Khan throws weight behind nominee, says he picked Buzdar ‘after carrying out due diligence over two weeks’
LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) nominee Sardar Usman Buzdar is likely to have a tough contest with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Hamza Shehbaz Sharif for the coveted office of chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest province population wise, as the provincial legislature meets at 11am on Sunday to elect the Leader of the House.
On Saturday, Buzdar was given a green signal by the Punjab Assembly Secretariat to contest the election following allegations that the PTI nominee had faced a corruption probe and was also acquitted in the murder of six persons in 1998 after allegedly paying blood money. Hamza Shehbaz’s nomination papers were also cleared by the assembly officials after scrutiny.
The PTI and its allies hold 185 seats in the 371-strong house, while the PML-N enjoys the support of 130 members. The PML-N has already lost the elections of the speaker and deputy speaker to the PTI-led alliance in Punjab. PML-Q’s Pervaiz Elahi and PTI’s Dost Mazari emerged victorious in the elections, respectively.
Hamza’s chances to bag the office vacated by his father, Shehbaz Sharif, have become bleak after the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) announced that it will abstain from voting for the PML-N candidates for prime minister and Punjab chief minister. Although the PPP has only six lawmakers in the House, its withdrawal of support to the PML-N has already dealt a severe blow to the fragile coalition of at least 11 opposition parties.
However, PML-N leader Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman claimed that his party has secured the support of as many as 159 members for the election of Punjab CM.
“We need support of as many as 161 members, our two members have gone for Hajj but the independent members are with us,” he told reporters.
Rehman said that the party has come to know about a few of its members who voted for Pervaiz Elahi for speaker’s election. “We will get to know about the others in a few days,” he added.
The PML-N leader claimed that Usman Buzdar won’t be able to retain the CM’s office for long even if he were elected.
IMRAN STANDS BY BUZDAR:
Soon after allegations against the PTI nominee started making rounds on the social media on Saturday, PTI chairman and newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to pay heed to the allegations against Buzdar, saying the latter has “integrity and stands by my vision and ideology of Naya Pakistan”.
“I want to make it clear I stand by our nominee Usman Buzdar for CM Punjab. I have done my due diligence over the past 2 weeks & have found him to be an honest man. He has integrity & stands by my vision & ideology of Naya Pakistan,” wrote Imran on his twitter handle.
He further explained that Usman hails from one of the “most backward areas of Punjab”, adding that the area has “no electricity, water or a doctor for over 200,000 [people].”
Buzdar understands the problems of the people living in neglected areas and will be able to ensure their uplift as a chief minister.
“This is the first time Punjab will have a CM from such a neglected area who is acutely aware of what has to be done there. I fully back him all the way,” he added.
Imran’s tweets in defence of Buzdar comes at a time when his nomination has been marred with controversy as, besides all these allegations, the party’s old guard is also unhappy with the nomination.
Following the nomination, a party leader had questioned, “Where are the party claims that only a stalwart will be the Punjab CM?” While another said, “I doubt that Chaudhry Sarwar will take oath as Punjab governor in the current situation.”
Buzdar also came out with a statement in his defence, saying that he was acquitted in the murder cases on the court’s orders without paying any blood money. He added that any person’s name could be added in an FIR [First Information Report] regardless of their complicity in the case or not.
“The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has also given me a clean chit in the illegal recruitment probe initiated against me on the complaint of my cousin,” he said.
Buzdar, who had garnered 26,897 votes from PP-286 Taunsa Sharif in the 2018 General Election, and his father were booked for killing at least six persons during 1998 elections and were declared offenders by the court in 2000; however, the Buzdar family allegedly gave Rs 7,500,000 in diyat (blood money) for a compromise with the affected families.
Besides murder, Buzdar was also accused of corrupt practices during his stint as a tehsil nazim of the mountainous tribal area of Dera Ghazi Khan district during former dictator General (r) Pervez Musharraf’s era.
Though Prime Minister Imran Khan, unmoved by the reports, claimed Buzdar to be in line with the idea of the ‘Naya Pakistan’, Buzdar has been tax evader as well—in clear contrast of PTI’s anti-corruption rhetoric. The 49-year MPA paid his taxes in 2017 for the first time even though he owns assets worth Rs 25 million.