ISLAMABAD, Aug 27: As widely expected, Monday proved to be a trying day for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in the Supreme Court.
But unexpectedly it also signalled general elections ahead of schedule.
First, it was Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira who made a surprise remark before entering Courtroom 2 that there was no harm in discussing early elections if the opposition so insisted.
That was followed by another meaningful reference to ‘elections’ inside the courtroom. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, heading a five-judge bench hearing the NRO judgement implementation case, told the premier that if he committed to write a letter to Swiss authorities in accordance with the court order, he could stay on in his office “until elections”.
A few hours after the court granted the time the premier had sought to think about the matter came an astounding statement from Sindh’s former home minister Manzoor Wassan at the Islamabad airport that the letter would be written as “the third option” and that April 4 next year would be the election day.
Although Mr Wassan was categorical about the dates — caretaker government taking over on Feb 18 and polls on April 4 -- his PPP colleagues feigned ignorance about them.
“Yes, we have been discussing all sorts of political issues. That is nothing unusual. But to put definite dates on matters that are yet to be hammered out between the political parties is beyond me,” Presidency’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn. Rather, he said he had been trying to contact Mr Wassan to seek an explanation as to how and from where he had got this information and on what basis he had mentioned the dates so categorically.
For Mr Babar, there was “nothing unusual” in the remarks made by Mr Kaira about general elections ahead of schedule. He also expressed his surprise over the claim made by Mr Wassan that the letter to the Swiss authorities would be written after the Sept 18 court hearing under a “third option”.
When contacted, Mr Wassan clarified that his statement was his “personal opinion” and that he had never stated that the PPP had made any such decision. However, he asserted that the dates he had mentioned were correct. When informed about Mr Babar’s reaction to his statement, he said he would meet the party’s leaders, including Prime Minister Ashraf, on Tuesday and would explain his position.
About the use of the term ‘third option’, he said he actually meant “a middle way”.
He said a middle way to resolve the issue of writing the letter to Swiss authorities would be found by the Supreme Court after the Sept 18 hearing.
Talking to reporters outside the court, Information Minister Kaira said the PPP wanted the present parliament to complete its constitutional term and the opposition should wait for another six months or so. However, he said, if the opposition could not wait then it should talk to the government because there was no harm “if the elections are held two to four months earlier than the schedule”.
As the remarks of Mr Kaira had gone unnoticed due to developments that took place inside the courtroom, the statement made by Mr Wassan in front of TV cameras at the airport after his arrival from Karachi became the hot topic of discussion within the media and political circles all over the country.