INCLUDING the non-parliamentary opposition in the consultative process on the establishment of a caretaker set-up to oversee general elections is a positive idea and should broaden the dialogue space. Speaking to Dawn on Tuesday, Yousuf Raza Gilani said the ruling party had decided in principle to involve the Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf in talks to decide on the establishment of a pre-election interim cabinet, and that consultations would begin “soon”. Coming from a former prime minister, who is also the PPP’s senior vice chairman, the initiative deserves to be welcomed in a crisis-prone country that lacks strong constitutional institutions and democratic traditions. The JI and the PTI should welcome the offer, because both of them have a stake in the coming election and in the kind of set-up that will organise it. Even though these two parties boycotted the 2008 election — and they may well be ruing their decision — both of late have been reaching out to the people in a way that appears to give the impression of an election campaign. Their ideas and suggestions, therefore, deserve to be heard and made part of the consensus on a truly neutral prime minister tasked with organising an election whose transparency would not be questioned.
Against this background, opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan dwelt more on technicalities when he said there was no need at this point for talks with the government because the 20th Amendment had clearly laid down the procedure for choosing a caretaker set-up. Yet he said his party would hold consultations after Eid on the same issue with opposition parties, including those outside parliament. If the 20th Amendment does not stand in the way of the PML-N’s talks with the PTI — despite the “bitterness” he spoke of — there is no reason why it should stop his party from talking to the government in an amicable manner to sort out an issue in which all parties have stakes.
What matters here is not so much the technicality of the constitutional procedure as the overriding need for creating a tension-free atmosphere that would be conducive to the holding of a fair vote. The ease with which the two leading parties agreed on a chief election commissioner should serve as a model in other matters, including the choice of caretaker prime minister. For that reason, the opposition should respond positively to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s offer of dialogue. Mr Ashraf said the aim behind his offer was to ensure an orderly transfer of power and “the supremacy of democracy”.