ISLAMABAD: The PML-N is feverishly engaged in mustering support of at least 51 per cent MPAs of the PML-Q in the Punjab with the objective of changing their parliamentary leader to avoid the defection clause if the PML-Q members join the Punjab government.
Meanwhile, the PPP is largely banking on Hamid Nasir Chattha to secure votes of whatever number of MPAs, still left with the PML-Q, and may offer the office of the chief minister to him as a last resort to get the Punjab government.
Another major development, according to the source, is that the PML-Q in consultation with the PPP will approach the Lahore High Court (LHC) to stop the PML-Q forward bloc from voting for Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif after Governor Salmaan Taseer will ask him to seek a fresh vote of confidence after the PPP ministers quit the Punjab cabinet.
For over a decade-and-a-half, Chattha has had excellent relations with Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari despite being in the PML-Q. He continues to be in the good books of the PPP, which has increased its interaction with him amid the fast developing situation in the Punjab.
The PML-N got 23 extra votes from the Punjab Assembly in the Sept 6 presidential election, which were of the PML-Q MPAs. But if the claim of a senior PML-N leader, made to this correspondent, is accepted as true, his party bagged a total of 30 PML-Q votes, including all the seven ballots, which were declared invalid.
He said the PML-N in fact needs the backing of less than a dozen PML-Q MPAs to have 51 per cent of the entire provincial parliamentary party with it and to be in a position to change their parliamentary leader in the Punjab Assembly. The PML-Q has a total of 84 MPAs.
Three days ago, 36 PML-Q MPAs attended an Iftar dinner hosted by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. One of them, however, later again slipped to the side of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat.
The PPP secured 16 extra votes, all from the PML-Q, in the presidential election. It has 107 MPAs while it had bagged 123 votes. These 16 MPAs, and the 30 members, who voted for the PML-N, form more than 51 per cent of the PML-Q parliamentary party in the provincial assembly. But they did not make one group for being in different groups, not speaking with one voice.
The source said the PML-Q still has the support of thirty-plus MPAs, who are an equal major attraction for both the PML-N and the PPP. The PPP’s utmost effort is to rope in all these members with Chattha leading them with the promise that he would be made the provincial chief executive.
According to the source, the Chaudhrys may put forward the name of Moonis Elahi (son of Chaudhry Pervez Elahi) as the next chief minister side by side Chattha if the PPP insisted on seeking the PML-Q support in order to oust Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
The PML-N has 178 MPAs while it requires a minimum number of 186 members of the Punjab Assembly to sustain its government. Already, it is in power on the force of the support of the PML-Q defectors.
The governor has repeatedly declared that the moment the PPP ministers leave the provincial cabinet, the Shahbaz Sharif government would be in minority and he would have to ask the chief minister to get a fresh vote of confidence that Shahbaz would not be able to secure for having no majority in the Punjab Assembly.
In his opinion, the PML-Q forward bloc would not be able to openly vote for Shahbaz Sharif because its members would be hit by the floor-crossing law and would thus be liable to disqualification.
A constitutional expert said the situation in the Punjab would become complex and complicated if the high court was involved. There was a secret ballot in the presidential election in which it was difficult to figure out the defectors, but it would be too easy in the election or vote on a trust resolution for or against the chief minister because it would take place through a show of hands.
“I have no doubt that all our turncoats will come back to us running with great speed once they see that it is going to have a dominant say in the post-Shahbaz Sharif scenario,” a top PML-Q leader told The News.
“Neither the PML-N can remain in the government nor can the PPP get power in the Punjab without the PML-Q’s backing,” he said. A PML-Q leader said its MPAs would have to collectively realise their importance under the prevailing situation in the Punjab. He said if they stood together, their party would be able to get the office of the chief minister. And if they did not support either of the two main parties, the provincial assembly would have to be dissolved because none of them would be in a position to form the government.