Panama Papers: PPP’s approach to issue being questioned

Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) insistence on Parliament instead of the apex court as the right forum to address the issue of the Panama Papers is seen as a ‘tacit understanding’ with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) by party cadres.

According to PPP insiders, on condition of strict anonymity, this insistence has prompted a split within the party: those who support Chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s policy of reconciliation, a group mainly comprising parliamentarians who are enjoying the benefits associated with being the largest party in parliament; and those who label the insistence on parliament as a forum of the Prime Minister’s accountability rather than the apex court where all the action is at present an “underhanded support” of the government.

PPP, which is the second largest parliamentary party in terms of its numbers in both houses of Parliament, 46 in the 342-member National Assembly and 27 in the 104-member Senate, has been accused by PTI of presenting a “friendly opposition” to the government.

The PPP’s insiders, in background discussions, acknowledge that despite the numerical strength in the parliament, the party has lost considerable support in all provinces after the 2013 elections (other than in interior Sindh) mainly because of what is seen as a tacit support for the Sharif administration whenever it becomes embroiled in a conflict either with other opposition parties or the ubiquitous establishment.

To become relevant in politics the party has to take a politically feasible stance rather than a safe stance that does not upset the applecart, they argue.

“The party’s policy on the Panama Papers is creating confusion within our own ranks. We don’t really know whether the objective is to save Nawaz Sharif or to make him accountable,” said a PPP parliamentarian on condition of anonymity.

He said the party workers are also unable to understand the party’s policy as there are clear contradictions in statements of senior leaders namely Syed Khursheed Shah, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan as well as party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. “It seems we want to make Nawaz Sharif accountable and at the same time also want to save his skin”, he maintained.

The PPP’s insistence on parliament to resolve the issue of the Panama Papers instead of becoming party to the Panama Papers case in Supreme Court has divided the once joint opposition, as a blame-game between PPP and PTI has begun.

PTI, Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami, the opposition parties to the case in the Supreme Court, allege that the PPP stands isolated as it continues to stick to its position that the procedure for the Prime Minister’s accountability is through the passage of the Panama Papers Inquiry Act 2016, tabled in the Senate by the joint opposition of which PTI is a part, but which has, so far, not received any government support.

PTI stayed away from the proceedings of Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Tuesday, when the Panama Papers Inquiry Act 2016 was put up for a discussion for its possible passage.

However, chairman of the committee Senator Javed Abbasi, who belongs to the ruling PML-N, observed that since the case was already before the Supreme Court the passage of the bill is no longer relevant and sent it to the chairman Senate for his ruling.

Talking to Business Recorder, PTI’s Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak, however, said the party was still supporting the bill as it was one of the movers. But he quickly added that the PTI is also aware of the ‘tacit understanding’ between PPP and PML-N to protect each other.

“We know very well that the two parties [PPP and PML-N] have signed a ‘charter of corruption’ with the aim of protecting each other’s corruption,” said the PTI senator.

Referring to contradicting statements by the PPP’s senior leadership, he stated; “there seems a lack of co-ordination as the father [Zardari] wants something else while the son [Bilawal] has another opinion on various issues including the Panama leaks”.

Defending PPP’s stance, the party’s spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said that there was no lack of co-ordination or contradiction in the statements of the party leadership, adding PPP has taken a principled stance that it should be the Parliament that resolves all issues.

“Why would we as politicians hand over our own work to any other institution including the Supreme Court,” he asked, adding the Panama leaks issue can only be resolved through making a specific legislation for which the opposition parties have already submitted a draft bill in the Senate and parliament is the only forum which makes legislation.

To the criticism against the party, Babar said it was not the PPP but the PTI which has strengthened the Prime Minister by not forcing him to present himself for accountability.

He added that PPP had warned the PTI prior to its announcement of the November 2 ‘lockdown’ plan that it would further strengthen the Prime Minster instead of exerting any pressure. “The situation which the nation saw prior to November 2 just vindicated the PPP’s stance…it’s not the PPP but the PTI which is going towards isolation due to its policies,” he added.

-Business Recorder