SEASONED Pakistan Peoples Party politician from Punjab Nadeem Afzal Chan contested, and lost, the recent Senate elections running on a general seat from his home province. He talked to Dawn about the rationale behind the move, despite the PPP’s limited numbers in the provincial assembly, and the overall condition of the party in Punjab.
Q. What were the reasons behind your decision to contest for the Senate from Punjab where your party and its ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, didn’t have enough numbers to win?
A. We did not want to leave the field open for the PML-Nawaz. So we decided to go for it knowing that we did not have the required number of votes [in the Punjab Assembly] to win. We all know that the mandate the PML-N boasts of is not genuine; we wanted to expose its fake mandate. And we have done it.
When we went into the election we had 16 votes — eight each of the PPP and PML-Q — in hand. But I polled 27 votes on election day. These included three votes of independent members and eight of PML-N members. Three of my votes [cast by PML-N members] were declared invalid. And then there were seven-eight ballots left blank by the PML-N MPAs. So you see a small revolt brewing in the PML-N against its party leadership just because we didn’t leave the field open for it.
Also, when we decided to contest for the Punjab Senate seat some thought that we could lose our members in the provincial assembly to the ruling party. But that did not happen. Instead we were able to obtain more votes than our existing strength in the house. This shows the PPP is united. You cannot say the same for the N-League.
Q. In Punjab you chose to contest although you did not have the numerical strength for it. But in Sindh the PPP entered into a pre-poll arrangement with the MQM on sharing the seats between them. You actually gave the MQM more than its share. Don’t you see contradictions in the party policies being pursued in Punjab and Sindh?
A. Not at all. In Sindh we gave the MQM its share from that province. This shows that the PPP wanted a smooth and fair election. Also, we wanted every party to have representation in the Senate according to its strength in the assemblies. In Punjab, the PML-N did not give the opposition parties their due share. That’s why we challenged it.
The opposition deserved to get one seat on the basis of their numbers in the provincial assembly. The PML-N should have offered the seat to it even if the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had decided not to participate in the Senate election from Punjab.
Q. Did your party talk to the PTI to convince it to return to the provincial assembly to block the PML-N’s clean sweep?
A. We did; they declined.
Q. With the PTI staying away from the Senate election in Punjab, the chances of the opposition winning were next to none. Was it your own choice to fight the losing battle or did the party decide it for you?
A. It was both. I wanted to contest and the party gave me the ticket. There were others — Manzoor Wattoo, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Haider Zaman and Malik Hakmeen Khan — who had applied for the ticket in the hope that the PML-N would dole out the seat to the PPP. However, I knew that neither [former president Asif Ali] Zardari will telephone Nawaz Sharif [to ask for this favour], nor would the PML-N agree to such a suggestion.
Maybe the PML-N would have offered the seat to the PPP if someone else and not I were in the contest. I cannot say.
Q. Why someone else but not you?
A. Because I’m the most vocal critic of the ruling party in the province.
Q. The process of Senate elections was marred by allegations of rigging, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. What is your assessment about Punjab?
A. I don’t think the polling process in Punjab was transparent enough. The ruling party did what it did to ensure the victory of all its candidates. The N-League leadership put pressure on its members to win all seats. Still some 11 ruling party members voted for me. It betrays existence of a deep rift within the PML-N. These fissures will deepen and become more obvious closer to the next general elections.
Q. Why has the PPP shunned popular politics?
A. The PPP hasn’t shunned popular politics. We know people aren’t happy with the party because the leadership could not go to the masses owing to terrorism threats. But when our leadership goes back to the people we’ll regain the lost ground. Bilawal is coming back home by April 4, the day his grandfather was hanged by Gen Zia. We will go into the local government election with full preparation and win. Don’t doubt the popularity of the PPP in Punjab.
Q. After the 2013 elections, there were some rumours that you planned to join the PTI. Did you ever consider this?
A. Never. Those who are used to the culture of the PPP cannot adjust in any other party.
Published in Dawn March 10th , 2015