Pakistan: PPP to support PML-N on PM votes without becoming part of govt

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari(L) speaks during a press conference in Islamabad on 13 February, 2024AFP

Two of Pakistan’s main political parties ruled out any alliances Tuesday after an indecisive election, raising the possibility of a minority government or weeks more of negotiation before a coalition is formed.

Candidates loyal to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats in Thursday’s election while running as independents, but Khan ruled out any alliance with his rivals.

The upset stopped the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from securing a ruling majority, with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) -- their main coalition partner in the previous government -- in third place.

Speaking in Adiala Jail -- where he has spent much of his time since his arrest in August -- Khan accused both the PML-N and PPP of corruption.

“We will neither sit with the PML-N nor with the PPP,” he told a handful of reporters covering a procedural hearing at the prison outside the capital Islamabad.

There have been widespread allegations of vote-rigging and result manipulation after authorities switched off the country’s mobile phone network on election day and the count took more than 24 hours.

“We are going to challenge the election rigging in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and we will consider the alliance later,” said Khan, clutching a string of prayer beads.

The remarks are among the first Khan has made publicly since the poll five days ago returned a boon for his PTI party, despite it being effectively dismantled.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the third-placed PPP, said on Tuesday his party wasn’t interested in a new alliance with the PML-N but would support any government formed by them on certain issues.

“We will support a political party without becoming part of the government,” Bhutto Zardari said.

“But we will support the votes of prime ministership, budget and legislation on an issue-to-issue basis,” he said.

‘Huge crisis’

Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari, said he would like to see his father become president again.

“And I am not saying this because he is my father. I am saying this because the country is in a huge crisis at the moment and if anyone has the capacity to douse this fire, it is Asif Ali Zardari,” he said.

The PML-N of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- which was widely expected to win the lion’s share of votes in the National Assembly -- has previously said it was open to forming a coalition government.

Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in 2022 and thereafter waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the nation’s military kingmakers.

He has been buried under dozens of court cases, convicted numerous times and barred from standing for office -- all he claims orchestrated to prevent his return to power.

PTI’s senior leaders were subject to sweeping arrests and the party barred from appearing on ballot papers in a crackdown analysts agree was planned by the military establishment.

Independents loyal to Khan still secured around 90 of the 266 elected seats for Pakistan’s parliament, although PTI insist its returns would have been far higher without rigging.

PTI has largely been focussed on challenging the legitimacy of the vote, rather than speaking with other parties.

PML-N and PPP had been locked in negotiations to enter government together but Bhutto Zardari said Tuesday his party had decided it would not join a coalition.

The move could effectively leave Pakistan with a minority government tasked with pulling the country out of a crushing economic crisis.

However, Shehbaz Sharif, prime minister in the previous government and brother of Nawaz, said on Tuesday the PML-N was still open to talks with other parties.

“We’ve had two meetings (with PPP), and there may be a few more. Once a decision is reached, the nation will be informed,” he told a news conference in Lahore.