ISLAMABAD - Pakistan People’s Party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday owned outgoing Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani as he visited his house and offered him to become the leader of the opposition in the Senate as Asif Ali Zardari remained firm to deny him the top Senate slot, sources said.

There were reports that Raza Rabbani had refused to take oath as a senator after Zardari’s statement against his role. But Bilawal visited Rabbani’s residence for reconciliation.

Sources said Rabbani was offered to become leader of the opposition in the Senate after the election of the Senate chairman.

“There was a difference of opinion on Rabbani’s role within the PPP. There is a significant group who supports Rabbani to continue as the Senate chairman. Bilawal represents that group who respects Rabbani. Bilawal is still pressing his father [Zardari] to change his mind on Rabbani,” a PPP leader, privy to the meeting, told The Nation.

He added: “There were rumours that Rabbani might not take oath. So Bilawal visited his house. He has been offered to become the leader of the opposition as Zardari is not ready to re-elect him as the Senate chairman.”

The PPP leader said Bilawal appreciated Rabbani’s services as the Senate chairman in the past three years. “Bilawal assured Rabbani that difference of opinion is the beauty of democracy but the PPP acknowledges his services. If it were for Bilawal, he would have nominated Rabbani again,” he added.

Until now, Zardari has been backing Senator Salim Mandviwala as the PPP candidate for the top Senate slot.

The PPP sources said Zardari and Bilawal were willing to change the candidate, if needed, but Zardari was firm not to agree on Rabbani’s name.

Zardari maintains Rabbani had ignored violations of the Constitution by Nawaz Sharif, which put him out of the race. “Rabbani also did not remove our reservations over the 18th amendment. This is why Rabbani is closer to Nawaz Sharif,” he said.

A brief PPP statement issued after the Bilawal-Rabbani meeting said that the outgoing chairman assured the party chief that he was willing to work in any position that the leadership assigns him.

On Friday, the PPP looked for other options after PTI chief Imran Khan’s shock announcement that his party would not vote for the PPP nominee in the Senate chairman’s election.

Bilawal flew to Islamabad to join Zardari for a series of meetings with likely allies and supporters.

On Friday, senators from the Federally-Administrated Tribal Areas and Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bazinjo called on Zardari and Bilawal as the PPP delayed official announcement of its candidate to evolve consensus.

A PPP statement said: “Matters relating to Senate elections and issues of [the] Fata were discussed in the meeting. Balochistan CM Bazinjo also called on Zardari and Bilawal. Matters of Senate elections and political situation in the province were discussed.”

The meeting was attended by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Senator Dr Qayyum Soomro, Senator Salim Mandviwala, Senator Sardar Ali Khan, Humayun Khan and Faisal Karim Kundi.

Mandviwalla is Zardari’s first priority, while Farooq Naek and Sherry Rehman are still not being ruled out - to give options to the smaller parties.

The PPP and the PML-N made contrary claims of mustering support of more than 53 senators.

A simple majority of 53 votes is required to elect the chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate.

Following the elections, the PML-N and independents backed by the party have 33 seats in the Senate followed by the PPP with 20. Independents make up the third largest grouping with 17 seats. The PTI has 12 seats.

Nawaz Sharif said he personally wanted to see Raza Rabbani to return as the Senate chairman but was looking for some suitable candidate within the PML-N after Zardari’s decision against his candidature.

If the PTI somehow agrees to support the PPP’s nominee for the Senate chairman’s slot, the post of deputy chairman will go to a member named by the PTI and its allies.

The PTI is supporting Anwarul Haq Kakar, while PPP backs Sadiq Sanjrani for the deputy chairman’s slot.

Meanwhile, Zardari appointed Amir Fida Paracha as spokesperson to president PPP Parliamentarians, replacing Senator Farhatullah Babar who resigned this week.

A notification in this regard was issued by Rukhsana Bangash, the political secretary to the PPPP president.

 

Shafqat Ali