Parliamentary committee to discuss terms of talks on holding elections simultaneously: PM

Ali Raza
Ayaz Akbar Yousafzai

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses a meeting of coalition partners in Islamabad on April 26, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/GeoNews
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses a meeting of coalition partners in Islamabad on April 26, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/GeoNews

  • Prime minister says door for negotiations should not be closed.
  • Ruling allies in consensus over holding elections on same day.
  • PM says apex court does "not have powers to act as arbitrator".

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Wednesday that a parliamentary committee would discuss the terms of talks between the ruling alliance and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regarding holding elections across the country on the same day.

He said the door for negotiations should not be closed. "We can decide what the format of the talks will be. The parliamentary committee can create room for this." 

He made the comments in a meeting with leaders of the 13 parties — known as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — that form the coalition government.

The meeting comes a day before a hearing of the Supreme Court on petitions requesting single-day elections to the national and provincial assemblies. In the previous hearing, the apex court had directed the government and opposition parties to reach a consensus on the date for holding elections.

In his address today, the premier said the parliament had dealt with challenges in the past and taken constitutional and legal steps regarding the Supreme Court.

The situation was still challenging, he continued. Referring to the verdict of a three-member Supreme Court bench that ordered polls to the Punjab Assembly on May 14, he said the parliament did not accept the bench.

"The parliament did not accept that bench's decision. The unanimous decision was that we accept the four-three verdict," PM Shehbaz said, referring to the controversies regarding the bench's members.

However, the apex court wanted to continue hearing the elections case with the three-member bench, which has asked for details regarding election funds tomorrow, he noted.

"The parliament has dealt with Supreme Court verdicts in the past. It would prefer that the matter [of holding talks with the opposition on elections] also be brought to the house.

"The parliament would want its decisions to be respected."

The coalition partners had reached a consensus on same-day elections, he shared. "The decision has to be taken by the parliament, not you or me," he told the allies.

'SC does not have arbitration powers'

Prime Minister Shehbaz said the Supreme Court did "not have the power to act as an arbitrator" between the government and the PTI.

"The Supreme Court's job is not to act as a panchayat but to announce verdicts in accordance with the law and the Constitution."

The National Assembly's term would come to an end on August 13, he said, adding that general elections could then be held in October or November.

Referring to former prime minister Imran Khan's claims, PM Shehbaz said the country was already facing problems before the PTI Chairman created more by saying he was ousted from power through a conspiracy by the United States.

"Our foreign relations were greatly damaged. The PTI instructed its provincial finance ministers to reject an agreement with the IMF (International Monetary Fund). All kinds of tactics were used to create anarchy. Even the armed forces were not spared."

Relations with the Fund have improved but are not satisfactory, he said. 

Separately, a meeting of the federal cabinet decided to refer a Ministry of Finance summary for providing Rs21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for holding polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to parliament. 

Meeting among allies

Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and other leaders attended the meeting held earlier today.

Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan and federal ministers also attended the meeting.

As per sources, the meeting was briefed by the legal team on the election fund case and the negotiations with PTI. 

Earlier today, The News had reported that there are chances of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supermo Nawaz Sharif — who is currently in Saudi Arabia — attending the meeting virtually.

During the last meeting of the coalition partners, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari suggested dialogue with the PTI but the PDM chief Fazl outright rejected the proposal.

PMLN sources claim that the party leadership has asked Ayaz Sadiq to contact PTI’s Asad Qaiser and both have agreed to meet today. However, PTI chief Imran Khan has clearly stated that the mandate for negotiations rests with Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

On April 20, the top court adjourned the hearing of the petition till April 27 after the key ruling parties —PPP and PML-N — had assured the Supreme Court they would sit with the PTI on April 26 and try to find a solution on the election date.

A three-member bench of the top court — headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar — has sought a progress report on the talks by April 27.

'Disagreement’ among ruling allies

A dispute emerged among the ruling parties over holding talks with the PTI on April 18, sources told Geo News, after Jamaat-e-Islami's (JI) bid to bring both sides to the negotiation table.

The PDM coalition partners met in Islamabad after PM Shehbaz convened a meeting on the country's political situation and the JI's negotiation efforts.

During the meeting, a disagreement took place among the parties in the coalition government over holding talks with the opposition party as some believed that PTI Chairman Imran Khan could not be trusted, while others insisted that political forces should not shut channels for negotiations.

PPP Chairman Bilawal had stressed holding dialogue with the opposition, with Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Balochistan National Party, Balochistan Awami Party, Chaudhry Salik, and Mohsin Dawar backing him, sources said.

Bilawal said closing the door for talks is against his party's principles and "undemocratic".

But representatives of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP) rejected Bilawal's opinion and said that it isn't in the coalition's interests to hold talks with the deposed prime minister — who was ousted from the office via a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly in April last year.

Later, the PPP supremo also held a separate meeting with the JUI-F chief to convince him. 

Following the SC directives, both Bilawal and Fazl rejected the order, terming the dialogue between political parties as directed by the court “talks at gunpoint”.