ISLAMABAD, (MANEND NEWS): After months of political bickering, the ruling coalition and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders on Thursday sat across the table for talks that rekindled hopes for breaking the ongoing political and constitutional impasse in the country.
In the first formal interaction since the removal of former prime minister Imran Khan through a vote of no-confidence April last year, leaders of the coalition parties and the PTI met at the Parliament House.
Both the sides contemplated on developing a consensus on simultaneously holding general elections across the country. The first round of talks lasted for over two hours and would be followed by another meeting on Friday (today).
At the talks, the government side comprised Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, Economic Affairs Minister Ayaz Sadiq, Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Yousaf Raza Gillani and Kishwar Zehra of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P).
The PTI was represented by its Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Barrister Ali Zafar.
During the discusson, the PTI sought an early date of the dissolution of the National Assembly and remaining two provincial assemblies – Sindh and Balochistan – from the government so that elections could be called on a single day in July this year.
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The PTI had already dissolved Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies in January this year in an attempt to force the federal government to call early general elections in the country.
However, the party hasn’t been able to achieve the desired result even after the 90-day constitutional limit of holding the elections has lapsed and despite the Supreme Court’s intervention into the matter.
The PTI team told the government side that the date of the polls in Punjab –ordered by the Supreme Court on May 14 – could be extended after the government gave the date of dissolution of the national and the provincial assemblies.
According to sources, the PTI also talked about giving constitutional cover to the past and some future events, as the 90-day constitutional period of holding elections in Punjab and K-P after the dissolution of assemblies had already passed.
Officials privy to the development said that the government side said that elections could be held in August or September but sought time for seeking opinion of the allied parties’ leadership by Friday (today).
“The meeting took place in a cordial environment; both sides have shown flexibility which has increased the chances of holding elections on a single date across the country,” a member of the negotiations teams told The Express Tribune.
Another source, who was present in the meeting, confirmed that the PTI demanded that the elections should be held simultaneously in July, whereas the government side proposed the polling in August or September.
“The difference is only of a month or a month-and-a-half,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The main thing is how much flexibility the government shows in giving the date for the dissolution of the assemblies and holding of elections.”
The government as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) are in favour of holding elections in October. The government took the stance that holding polls on different dates would lead to chaos.
Besides, The ECP also postponed the Punjab elections, which were earlier scheduled on April 30 to October 8. Soon after the ECP’s announcement, the matter was taken to the apex court, which gave a new date of polls – May 14.
However, the government has been blocking all moves of the apex court regarding release of funds and provision of the security by passing resolutions after resolutions in the National Assembly.
So much so, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took a fresh vote of confidence from the National Assembly on Thursday after the top court observed the other day that the prime minister had lost the majority after a bill seeking Rs21 billion for polls was rejected.
At the Parliament House, the sources said, the talks started in a “frank environment” after Dar gave a brief build-up to the meeting. Opening tha dialogue for the PTI, Qureshi admitted that the 90-day constitutional timeframe had already lapsed.
However, he contended that both sides shouldn’t go beyond the Constitutional limits anymore, stressing that the PTI was participating in the talks on Supreme Court’s proposal that the political parties should find a way out of the current impasse.
According to the sources, Fawad Chaudhry said that a constitutional cover would be required if the government wished to complete its tenure as well as for holding all the elections – to the national and provincial assemblies – on the same day.
Law minister Tarar, they continued, reiterated that the 90-day period had already lapsed, clarifying that the both sides were not sitting across the table because of the apex court but the meeting was being held among the politicians and the parliamentarians.
The sources maintained that Gilani, while recalling how he was deposed, emphasised that it was time that political parties should sit together and find a solution to the problems instead of seeking help from the institutions.
“It’s time we start solving our problems by ourselves,” he was quoted as saying in the meeting. Gilani also spoke to the reporters after the meeting. He said that the discussions were held in a positive atmosphere.
Dar told the media that the government committee had taken a principled stance of handle the matter within the constitutional limits. He underscored the importance of taking into account the interest of the state and the people.
The finance minister announced that both the committees would consult with their leadership after the meeting, adding that that there would be a detailed meeting at 3pm on Friday to discuss the matter further.
Talking to media, PTI leader Qureshi said that both sides had presented their respective viewpoints in the meeting. He also said that the government side had taken time to take all allies on board.
Contending that the PTI team had been given complete mandate for the talks by party Chairman Imran Khan, Qureshi emphasised that they would discuss the election matter with an open mind, provided that the solution was within the Constitutional limits.
He expressed the hope that the talks would not be used as delaying tactics and both sides would find solutions through meaningful negotiations. “The solution(s) to the ongoing stalemate should work the best for the country and the nation.”