Cabinet set to decide fate of Punjab polls in weekend meeting

LAHORE, (MANEND NEWS): An ‘emerge­ncy’ meeting of the federal cabinet has been called on the weekly holiday (today) to decide whether funds should be released to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for holding the polls in Punjab on May 14, or show open defiance to the orders of the Supreme Court. Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn that the meeting would be held in Lahore with Prime Minister Sheh­baz Sharif in the chair.

“This is an important meeting on the current issues. However, its agenda has not been circulated as yet,” she said but added that “significant decisions” might be taken in the huddle.

Most cabinet members would participate in the deliberations through video link.

The PPP has separated itself from the Sharifs’ demand that Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Ban­dial should step down. But, according to sources, the party may review its stance at the last minute on whether to support its senior coalition partner’s dec­i­sion to reject the apex court’s order on Punjab polls.

A PML-N insider told Dawn that the release of funds for Punjab elections, Presi­dent Dr Arif Alvi’s decision to return the Supreme Court Bill, and Justice Athar Minallah’s judicial note in the elections case — which PML-N sees grossly in favour of its stance — would come under discussion during the meeting.

He said the Sharifs were in complete mood to defy the CJP-led three-member bench’s decision to hold elections in the province on May 14 and there was no secret in it.

“Be it Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz…all in one voice have rejected the three-bench verdict and the parliament is also standing behind the PML-N’s stance,” he said and added that the party was also unanimous on this point. He said that in Sunday’s meeting, the premier and cabinet would declare that there were no funds for the May 14 elections.

“And let’s see what action the SC takes on Monday…we don’t care,” he said and added that PML-N was desperately looking for a narrative and this defiance would help it build one with which it can go into polls.

“Further legislation by parliament to clip the apex court’s powers may also be discussed in the meeting,” he said.

Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar earlier in the day also did not give any hint that the government would be releasing funds to the ECP for the Punjab polls.

“The Supreme Court’s order for the federal government is to give Rs21 billion for elections in Punjab by April 10. Of course, the finance ministry and the cabinet have an important responsibility in this regard, and I am a part of it,” he said but did not indicate the amount his ministry would release by April 10.

Maryam Nawaz has already declared that the party was ready for disqualification. “The SC had disqualified Nawaz Sharif and if it decides to issue a contempt notice to PM Shehbaz we don’t care as we have rejected the three-member bench decision on Punjab polls which in fact was 4/3,” she had said.

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