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Pakistan's Protesting Party Suffers Internal Divisions


Imran Khan (C), Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) political party, addresses supporters in front of the parliament in Islamabad August 27, 2014.

For more than two weeks, leaders of the centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf party, or PTI, have been holding antigovernment protests in the capital, Islamabad.

Former cricket star and PTI head Imran Khan has accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of corruption and election rigging, and is demanding he step down.

But 200 kilometers away in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Khan’s party is in disarray, with many party lawmakers openly questioning his calls for them to resign from parliament.

Saleem-ur Rehman is one of the PTI representatives who submitted his resignation to the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, on August 22, but Rehman says he is among the 15 lawmakers from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who have "strong reservations" about Khan's instructions for them to resign.

"The [PTI leadership] has ignored us in all decisions and we are not being given the respect we deserve," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. "We are bothered by the fact that they have exempted our provincial government and lawmakers from resigning, but are pushing us to sacrifice our seats in the National Assembly."

Rehman says he and the other 15 party members with reservations have decided not to leave parliament just yet, though their resignations have been delivered and are being deliberated by the speaker.

Khan, along with the conservative Islamic cleric Tahir-ul Qadri and thousands of their supporters, has been camped in Islamabad's government district for more than a week.

PTI emerged as a major political force in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after winning most national and provincial seats in the 2013 elections.

But Khan lost badly to Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party in the eastern province of Punjab. This prosperous region is Pakistan's agricultural and industrial homeland. A densely populated province, Punjab has the lion’s share of seats in the national parliament.

PTI accepted the election results initially, but began protesting after the party’s complaints about irregularities in the voting process failed to push PML-N out of power. Khan now claims that the entire election process was rigged and is demanding new elections.

Siraj Mohammad Khan, another PTI lawmaker from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, also questions his party’s call for him to resign. He told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that he is consulting his supporters before making a final move, adding, "I expect them to stand by my decision."

Gulzar Khan, a former bureaucrat elected from a constituency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's capital, Peshawar, has publicly refused to resign.

"I don’t know the exact number, but some 12, 13 or 14 National Assembly members will not resign,” he said.

PTI has 34 members in the National Assembly, but the speaker has only received 31 resignations. Out of these, 25 were technically sound, because they were addressed to the speaker, while the rest were addressed to PTI leader Khan.

Pakistani law requires lawmakers to confirm their resignations were voluntary.

RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent Khalid Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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