PPP hardliners see poll boycott as saving grace


Islamabad : The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) decision to boycott the presidential election is being seen in political analysts here as a saving grace for party hardliners opposed to their chairperson Benazir Bhutto’s power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf.

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These hardliners “wanted to give an impression that there had not been a complete sell-out”, Dawn reported Sunday.

The party took the decision to boycott the poll on Saturday morning after long-drawn discussions for two days.

“The party leadership had failed to take a decision about participating, or otherwise, in the presidential election due to a clear division in the parliamentary group seen during two rounds of meeting on Friday,” the newspaper said.

Quoting sources in the party, it said a “small but important group” of hardliners, critical of Bhutto’s understanding with Musharraf in return for withdrawing corruption cases against her and other party activists, had “strongly opposed the idea of taking part in the election”.

According to the sources, “strong protests” by party leaders Aitzaz Ahsan and Mian Raza Rabbani during the parliamentary group’s meetings “led to the decision to abstain”.

The two PPP stalwarts felt the party had “committed a mistake” in not joining other opposition lawmakers in resigning from the national and provincial assemblies “and, thereby, had provided legitimacy to Gen. Musharraf’s election”.

Ahsan termed the amnesty-granting National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) “a weak piece of legislation” and told the party MPs “that it could easily be quashed” by the courts.

The two PPP leaders, according to the sources, said that Musharraf was “today the most unpopular person in the country and by providing him legitimacy at this crucial time, the party was strengthening his hands and making him powerful”.

The sources said that PPP secretary general Pervez Ashraf and Senator Safdar Abbasi were leading the group of the legislators who wanted to participate in the polling.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz contends that the government has not made a deal with the PPP and that the NRO had been promulgated “as a result of an understanding which would not end the role of the National Accountability Bureau”.

Addressing a news conference in his Parliament House chamber Saturday soon after the result of the presidential poll was unofficially announced, Aziz maintained the poll outcome had proved that “lawmakers of the ruling party were very well disciplined and doubts created about them were misplaced”.

“We have not entered into any deal with any party and its proof is that we will contest the (general) elections from the platform of (the ruling coalition) and this will not be expanded,” the prime minister contended.

Answering a question about the NRO, Aziz said that no criminal case would be withdrawn without the recommendation of the review boards to be set up in federal and provincial capitals.