LAHORE  -  It happened in the provincial house what could not happen in the lower house of the Parliament. And it was exactly what they had feared beforehand.

But it came as a harsh reminder to the PML-N leaders about what they had earlier done after 2008 elections by creating a forward bloc in the PML-Q led by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat. It was a 50-strong group of legislators ever ready to undo any move to dislodge the PML-N government then short of numbers to stand on its own feet.

But the history repeats itself. After a decade or so, Parvez Elahi has come to a position to avenge creation of forward bloc in his party. At least 12 PML-N members switched loyalties and voted for Ch Parvez Elahi in a secret ballot for speaker’s election in Punjab Assembly on Thursday. Mr Elahi also managed to secure at least two votes from the PPP whose legislators were under instructions to abstain from the voting process.

But it is just a beginning of an end. The dissident group in the PML-N is most likely to grow bigger in size with time. But it is quite possible that PTI’s nominee for the office of the chief minister may not get as much number of votes (201) as obtained by Parvez Elahi because of the open ballot, but the foundation to create fissures has certainly been laid. Thursday’s development was the proverbial “Chickens come home to roost” for the PML-N.

Signs of extreme discomfort were visible on the faces of Hamza Shehbaz and Khawaja Saad Rafique as they watched the downward march of their party once considered invincible in Punjab.

The development should also be worrisome for the PTI leadership in the sense that if the PML-Q gets stronger in Punjab, it will surely strengthen Parvez Elahi’s position to dictate his terms when it comes to formation of the provincial cabinet.

Immediately following his election as the speaker, Parvez Elahi was dubbed as “Daku” (dacoit) by the PML-N legislators. They were right in saying so since he had robbed them of their 12 members in just no time.

Interestingly, in the deputy speaker’s election afterwards, the PML-N got back the 12 votes earlier cast in favour of Parvez Elahi. Its candidate for the office of deputy speaker, Mohammad Waris Kallu polled 159 votes as against 147 of Ch Mohammad Iqbal Gujjar, the candidate for speaker’s slot. Dost Mohammad Mazari of the PTI secured 187 votes, 14 short of what Parvez Elahi had obtained. Also, Dost Mazari did not get two votes from the PPP which Mr Elahi had obtained.

How come the newly-born tiny forward bloc created in the PML-N vanished in just two hours time in the deputy speaker’s election?

The answer lies in over two hours delay in the election of the deputy speaker. The PML-N lawmakers lodged strong protest inside the house over the horse-trading done in speaker’s election. They stalled the polling process for over two hours by surrounding speaker’s dais and chanting slogans against him.

They were demanding their ‘men’ back who switched sides during speaker’s election. They let the speaker to restart the polling only after they got assurance from him that the 12 votes earlier cast in his favour will not go to the PTI’s nominee for the deputy speaker.

Parvez Elahi proved true to his words when the PML-N dissidents returned home by casting vote for the PML-N nominee. But it still remains a question whether or not they will be switching loyalties in the future.

Immediately after the speaker’s election, it was also interesting to watch former law minister Mohammad Basharat Raja, now in the PTI, choosing to sit on minister’s benches where he once used to sit as the law minister in Parvez Elahi’s cabinet from 2002 to 2007. Since the start of Assembly session on Wednesday, he was seen on the back benches. He also made victory signs standing close to Parvez Elahi upon his election as speaker. Both had an ideal working relationship at that time.

Basharat is now being tipped as the new law minister given his previous experience of heading the law department.

 

 

Chickens come home to roost

 

MUBASHIR HASSAN