PM squares up for NA confrontation over Panama leaks today

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will make his first appearance in parliament today (Monday) since the Panama Papers revelations about his family’s offshore holdings caused a political upheaval in the country.

How the PM will tackle an uncompromising opposition is anybody’s guess. Opposition parties want the beleaguered premier to answer seven tricky questions about his family’s wealth, but he is unlikely to acquiesce, though he might not gloss over the offshore assets of his children.

Sources say the premier might offer opposition parties the prospect of forming a house committee to thrash out fresh terms of reference (ToRs) for a judicial inquiry he has ordered into the Panamagate scandal. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali has already refused to form a judicial commission with the ToRs suggested by the government. And Premier Nawaz is likely to ask the opposition to seek guidance from the CJP’s letter while framing new working terms.

The prime minister returned from Turkey on Sunday after attending the wedding of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s daughter and went straight into a huddle with his legal and political aides ahead of Monday’s session of the National Assembly. He is likely to meet his aides one more time and consult his allies on how to put across the government’s viewpoint on the Panama leaks.

According to sources, the prime minister might offer the opposition the prospect of forming a house committee to reconfigure the ToRs or come up with new inquiry terms. However, if the two sides fail to agree on new ToRs, then it should be left to the discretion of the Supreme Court to frame new ToRs and start investigation either through a judicial commission or a large
bench of the apex court by converting the premier’s letter into a petition.

In his letter, the CJP has proposed fresh legislation for setting up a judicial commission on the Panamagate. Legal aides told the prime minister it would take time, which would only benefit the opposition that wanted the issue to linger on. They said the CJP, who is also the head of the Pakistan Justice and Law Commission which proposes amendments and reforms in any law, could highlight loopholes in the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956.

The CJP has also pointed out that the inquiry would take a long time because no individual or group has been nominated in the letter the prime minister had sent him with a request to form a judicial commission on the Panama leaks. Legal aides told Nawaz that in 2011 the then president, Asif Ali Zardari, had sought opinion from the Supreme Court on revisiting the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto trial that had led to his hanging, but the presidential reference could not be decided after five years. They also advised the premier to leave it to the proposed house committee to nominate individuals for inquiry.

According to sources, Premier Nawaz might briefly shed light on the offshore companies of his children identified in the Panama Papers but would not go into the microscopic details as the opposition was expecting. He is likely to defend himself and his family against charges of money laundering or any other wrongdoing. The premier might share with lawmakers that money for setting offshore companies had not been laundered from Pakistan rather it was borrowed from international banks for a variety of reasons.

Political aides told the prime minister that the largest opposition party, the PPP, has assured its lawmakers would not create ruckus in the house during his speech. Five members from each side of the aisle would deliver speeches in the house. All treasury MNAs have been asked to ensure their presence in Monday’s session.

Ahead of the session, scheduled to begin at 5pm, opposition parties will meet to thrash out their strategy. And the second largest opposition group, Imran Khan’s PTI, is likely to present its five-point plan, including a demand for the prime minister to resign, in the meeting. Attendees will include parliamentary leaders of the PPP, MQM, Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Muslim League, ANP, PML-Q, Qaumi Watan Party and BNP-M.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should step down to provide favourable atmosphere for investigations [into Panama leaks],” PTI Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi told The Express Tribune while sharing his party’s five points.

Giving details of the five points, Qureshi said firstly the prime minister should answer the opposition’s seven questions; secondly, he should name a government committee for negotiations with the opposition on ToRs; thirdly, he should form a legal committee having representation from both sides of the aisle to work out legislation for the proposed judicial commission; fourthly, he should step down till the completion of the inquiry; and lastly he can nominate another prime minister from within his party and resume office if exonerated by the judicial commission.

“If the opposition parties endorse our five points, we will present them before the house,” Qureshi said.

The PTI chairman’s admission that he once owned an offshore company has put his party in an awkward position prompting PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to say that Imran has lost the moral high ground to lead the calls for a judicial inquiry against the Sharif family.

In the changed scenario, the PTI is considering whether Imran should attend Monday’s session. “Chairman Imran Khan will be back [from London]by Monday morning and discuss party’s strategy in line with the latest development,” a senior PTI official told Party officials said Imran would offer himself up for accountability while also presenting financial details of the prime minister. For this purpose, the party has collected data on assets, properties, liabilities, and taxes paid by the Sharif family. However, some leaders in the party believe Imran should stay away from the proceedings keeping in view the likely reaction from members of the PML-N over his offshore company.

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