Nawaz decides to hold ground

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Beleaguered prime minister summons cabinet meeting today, parliamentary party meeting tomorrow to seek fresh ‘vote of confidence.

The embattled chief of the ruling party has decided to hold his ground and fight an all-out legal battle in the Supreme Court as pressure by political rivals calling for the prime minister to quit grew on Wednesday following the joint investigation team (JIT) report submitted in the Supreme Court earlier this week accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family of keeping assets beyond their known sources of income and recommended filing of a reference against them with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The Sharif family has acquired the services of leading legal experts of the country to help draft a reply to the JIT report, who have not only been tasked to highlight ‘flaws’ and ‘contradictions’ in the 10-volume report compiled by the six-member investigation panel but also question ‘biased’ remarks by Supreme Court judges against the Sharif family during the course of proceedings in Panama case.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called a special session of the federal cabinet on Thursday (today) wherein he is expected to take his core team into confidence over the ongoing political situation in the country. The prime minister is expected to solicit opinion of his team members on carving out the future course of action vis-à-vis contesting JIT report on the legal as well as political fronts.

A day after consultation with his core government team, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has summoned a meeting of the parliamentary party on Friday to obtain a fresh ‘vote of confidence’ from it. “Prime minister will seek vote of confidence during the party meeting,” a member of parliament from the ruling league told Daily Times. “Prime minister may seek vote of confidence from the National Assembly as well at a later stage, but this hasn’t been decided as yet,” he said.

The meeting of the parliamentary party, whose agenda has not been released or shared with anyone, has been summoned amid rumours that several PML-N lawmakers are seriously considering to jump the ship.

PML-N dissident leader Zulfiqar Khosa on Wednesday claimed that he was in contact with scores of MNAs from the ruling party who were ready to desert after the JIT report. “They are more than 70 … enough to cause them a big jolt,” he said.

A source within the ruling party told Daily Times that one of the reasons behind decision to convene an immediate meeting of the parliamentary party was to ‘identify’ possible dissenters. “People who abstain from the parliamentary party meeting will be taken as ‘potential rebels’,” he said, adding, “Explanations will be called from the absentees and those who failed to satisfy the leadership will be ‘fixed’.”

Amid calls by mainstream opposition parties, including the PTI, PPP, MQM-Pakistan and JI, for the prime minister to quit, Maryam Nawaz on Wednesday once again took to Twitter to reiterate that the premier will not resign.

“He will not give [resignation], God willing. Why should he resign? Because not even a single penny from public money was stolen during his five terms in power?”

Several other ruling party members also continued to defend their leadership amid reports that cracks had appeared even within the party ranks, with one group advising Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to call it a day to avoid further embarrassment while the other telling him to fight his case and challenge the JIT report in the Supreme Court.

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said the opponents were doing a ‘selective reading’ into the JIT’s report and ‘baselessly’ demanding PM’s resignation. “All elements involved in conspiracy, living within the country as well as abroad, will be exposed. I’m making it clear … they will not be given this government on contract under any circumstances,” she said.

Interestingly, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief and PML-N coalition partner Fazlur Rehman also came out to openly support Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, asking whether Panama probe was aimed at investigating corruption or creating instability in the country and removing the premier.