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Tuesday Jul 02 2019

15 MPAs in Bani Gala? The first of many trips to come

Image shows a group of provincial lawmakers from Punjab with Chief Minister Usman Khan Buzdar and senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Naeem ul Haq.

On Saturday, 15 members of the provincial assembly (MPAs), and five members of the national assembly (MNAs), met the prime minister at his residence in Bani Gala, Islamabad. This was no ordinary meeting. The men, almost all of them, belonged to the opposition political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). They had called on the prime minister without informing the chief of their own party.

News of the unusual sit-down made national headlines when Naeem-ul-Haque, the prime minister's special assistant on political affairs, tweeted out the information. Soon, most of the men were denying the meet up. The few who did admit, allege that they only met the prime minister to have the issues of their constituency resolved.

One man, Younas Ali Ansari, who contested the 2018 election independently on the symbol of "jeep" from Gujranwala, claims that he himself headed the group that was present in Bani Gala. (Ansari's brother is an MPA of the PML-N in Punjab).

Regardless of who you believe, there maybe some truth to the rumors of a forward block – a breakaway faction - being carved out from among the PML-N, to bolster the numbers of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In the province, the PTI has a wafer thin majority of only 181 in a house of 371, while the PML-N has 168 seats.

The PML-N is no novice to forward blocks either. During the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf, the party was split along many lines as its leaders were in exile. But then, when Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N was elected from Punjab in 2008, he tasked Mian Mohammad Atta Maneka to fetch him men from other parties. In those days, the PML-N had 168 members in the provincial assembly and needed close to 20 to form government in Punjab, and to prevent the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) from doing so. Maneka cobbled together a so-called Unification Group out of members from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q). The forward block eventually had the support of close to 48 lawmakers.

One wonders how that forward block was "good" and this one "harmful to democracy"?

Such kind of horse-trading is not new in politics. In the 1990s, when legislators wanted to side with Nawaz Sharif by leaving their own party, it was often referred to as the "Changa Manga" style of doing politics. When in the opposition, Imran Khan was openly critical of this kind of politics, yet today he too seems to be falling for its lure.

One of the 15 MPAs in Bani Gala on Saturday was Mian Jaleel Ahmed Sharaqpuri and another was Maulana Gyasuddin. Both claim the nature of their meeting was not political but only to bring to the prime minister's attention the issue of their constituency. Here the question to ask them would be that if water or electricity problems in a provincial constituency should be taken to the prime minister? Is it his responsibility to address them?

Gyasuddin further adds that Younas Ali Ansari's brother, who is a PML-N MPA, was also sitting with them in the meeting, although the MPA denies it.

My sources tell me that this was the first of many trips to Bani Gala by disillusioned lawmakers. Close to 80 MPAs and MNAs of the PML-N and the PPP from Punjab will call on the prime minister. There is also a batch of legislators ready in Sindh who could also be headed to Islamabad.