Imran agrees to same-day polls, but there is a caveat

ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE, (MANEND NEWS): Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has said that if the government dissolves the National Assembly by May 14 and goes towards elections, we are ready to accept the condition of holding simultaneous polls in the entire country, but malice is evident in the matter of dissolving the assembly after the budget.

Addressing the senior PTI leaders on Saturday, the former prime minister said, “If you [the coalition rulers] want to pass the budget, first win the election and the people will give you their mandate.”

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry, Shibli Faraz, Senator Azam Swati, Ijaz Chaudhry, Hammad Azhar, Mahmood Khan and others were in attendance.

During the meeting, the former prime minister was given a detailed briefing on the dialogue process with the government, while various proposals and future courses of action also came under discussion.

The meeting strongly condemned the late-night raid at the residence of central party president and former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.

Sources said that the leadership present at the meeting opined that the police operation could be a conspiracy to abruptly end the talks with the government.

The participants believed that if the party called off the dialogue, the government might get an opportunity to fight their case for delaying the elections in the Supreme Court.

The leaders also suggested that the talks with the government should not linger on but if their proposal was not accepted, the dialogue could be called off. However, the leaders expressed their opinion that talks with the government should continue.

While talking to the media, PTI Central Punjab General Secretary Azhar confirmed that the negotiations with the government would continue, adding that no one was against it.

Meanwhile, the PTI leaders also condemned the late-night raid on the residence of Elahi, terming it the worst kind of political victimisation.

A team of Punjab police and Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) raided Elahi’s residence, but after the six-hour long operation, they failed to apprehend the former chief minister. The action drew strong criticism from the PTI, which had already been voicing concerns against the arrest of its workers and leaders.

After meeting the family of Elahi, PTI Vice Chairman Qureshi pointed out to the media that the former CM was on bail and still the police raided his house to arrest him, adding that without any search warrant, the sanctity of his house was violated. “I am lost for words and strongly condemn the government action,” he added.

He praised the PTI president and his family for showing courage and determination while facing state brutality.

He said that everyone knew that when PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif faced a difficult time, Elahi provided relief to his family instead of giving them a tough time.

“The PTI was passing through a tough time. Not too long ago, the residence of PTI Chairman Imran’s also came under an attack when his wife was alone in the house,” he recalled.

Qureshi told the media that during the meeting with the coalition government, he said that on the one hand, they were negotiating and on the other, their workers were being arrested. “What is happening?”

He said, “After we raised this issue with the government team, the workers were released.”

PTI Senior Vice President Fawad in his tweet also condemned the police action, saying that the attack on Elahi’s house, the detention of PTI leader Ali Amin Gandapur despite securing bail, and the arrests of the party workers were making the negotiation process meaningless.

“If the government’s negotiation team cannot maintain a cordial atmosphere for talks, despite giving their assurances, how can it take big decisions?

In the meeting under the PTI chairman, we will decide whether to continue the talks or not,” he added.

Soon after hearing the news, Elahi’s son Moonis took to Twitter to slam the police action, saying that the Punjab police had arrived at their residence to arrest his father, though he was granted bail in the case.

PTI senior leader Senator Ali Zafar was baffled by the raid on Elahi’s house, saying on the one hand, the negotiations were in progress in a cordial atmosphere and the two parties were making progress and on the other hand, a police operation was carried out. “I do not understand its purpose,” he added.

“The attack on Elahi’s house was against the norms of democracy as the sanctity of his house and women were violated. Today, we will decide whether to attend the negotiation meeting on Tuesday,” he added.

In a statement, PTI Central Punjab President Dr Yasmin Rashid also condemned the attack, saying Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was resorting to the worst kind of revenge politics. “The imported government is showing extreme brutality against its opponents. The Punjab Police has crossed all limits of oppression and injustice at the behest of the government.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party senior leader and Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan condemned the raid on the house of the former Punjab CM.

While talking to the media, he said that launching raids on the residence of leaders of a specific party like that of Elahi would make political matters worse.

He averred that a negative tradition of oppression and new ways of fascism seen during the raid at Elahi’s residence were being introduced, adding that this incident must be taken seriously as barbarism had caused massive loss to the government and its allies.

He also stated that it seemed like the government was trying to derail negotiations while efforts were also being made to influence the courts in the crucial matter of holding Punjab and K-P elections within 90 days of dissolution of the two provincial assemblies. “The Supreme Court did not change its order and the elections will be held on May 14,” he added.

So far, the government and the PTI leaders held two rounds of talks and the third one was scheduled for Tuesday.

After months of political bickering, the ruling coalition and the PTI leaders sat across the table for talks on April 27 that had 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 in 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 efforts to find common ground through dialogue continued on April 28 as not only the talks remained on track but the leaders of both sides refused to let their differences come in the way of forging a consensus on general elections.

During the discussions, the PTI sought an early date for the dissolution of the National Assembly as well as the remaining two provincial assemblies – Sindh and Balochistan –so that elections could be called on a single day in July this year.

The government side, however, said that the government should complete its constitutional term, adding that the elections could be held in August or September.

It had sought time for seeking an opinion of the allied parties’ leadership by Tuesday. Among other things, the PTI wants the government not to present the budget but the latter is insisting on it.

The PTI already dissolved the Punjab and K-P assemblies in January 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 lapsed and despite the Supreme Court’s intervention into the matter.

During the talks, 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 as well as the two remaining provincial assemblies. However, the government hasn’t yet agreed to give a date for it. Both sides 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.

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 Gilani, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P) Kishwar Zehra and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s (PML-Q) Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Tariq Bashir Cheema.

The PTI was represented by Vice Chairman Qureshi, Fawad and Senator Zafar. The next meeting of the two sides will be held on Tuesday at 11am at the Parliament House.

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