ISLAMABAD - The first signs of rift have emerged between the Sharif brothers over the issue of Chairman Senate nomination.
Former PM Nawaz Sharif is in favour of Pervaiz Rashid being nominated for the top job in the Senate, while Shahbaz Sharif along with other party leaders are averse to Rashid in view of his strained relationship with the security establishment, background discussions with well-placed PML-N members suggest.
New party President and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, and most of the senior members of the party’s Punjab chapter are in favour of nominating Leader of the House in Senate and PML-N Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq instead, given that he is acceptable to both the government and opposition members and enjoys good ties with the establishment.
The internal rift in the party is said to be the main reason the party has failed to finalise its nominee for Senate chairman, despite multiple rounds of consultations. Meetings are frequently taking place at the residence of Chaudhry Munir Hidayatullah in Islamabad and Jati Umra in Raiwind.
The internal party rift is also cited as another key reason for the PML-N’s offer to support Raza Rabbani if the PPP nominates him.
Railways Minister Saad Rafique is playing an active role in ensuring PML-N’s numerical strength in the party to get N-League’s chairman elevated. For this purpose, he has reached out to independent candidates, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl. However, sources said the political parties had conveyed to Rafique that they would not support a ‘controversial’ figure like Rashid.
In October 2016, Rashid had to step down as information minister due to the Dawn Leaks controversy, amid accusations that Rashid still vehemently denies.
“There is an element in the party backed by our top command who believes that Rashid sacrificed for the party and remained loyal to Sharif through thick and thin, but has not been rewarded ‘in a big way’. The likes of Rashid, Nehal Hashmi, Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry are patronised by the same group,” said a party source who admitted to opposing Rashid’s candidature.
Till the recent past, Zafarul Haq was regarded as the obvious choice for chairman, but after the escalation of tensions between the party and state institutions, Sharif has decided to go with a candidate who holds a ‘tough’ stance regarding state institutions, including the security establishment and the judiciary.
Some circles in the PML-N also support Mushahid Hussain’s candidature, given that he also enjoys a good reputation in government and opposition circles, but Sharif and his aides have put weight behind bringing a ‘hardliner’ at the helm.
Due to the internal rift, Sharif has not given the go-ahead to Rashid’s candidature, fearing that the ruling party may not attain the required 53 votes out of 104 to have its chairman.